Binge-r #128: The 50 Best Movies on Netflix
THE 50 BEST MOVIES ON NETFLIX
Apocalypse Now Redux (2001, 202 minutes): As much a remix as an extended cut, Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 celebration of war (and filmmaking) as organisational folly has vivid parameters in the story of a Special Forces officer (Martin Sheen) sent to kill a former U.S. general gone rogue (Marlon Brando)
Arrival (2016, 115 minutes): Directed with menacing wonder by Denis Villeneuve, this is compelling and original science-fiction, with Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner as two experts trying to communicate with aliens landed on an increasingly panicky planet. The story folds in on itself, so that triumph is tragedy and vice-versa in an elegiac requiem.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018, 133 minutes): The Coen brothers’ western anthology begins with slightness and progresses to the sublime, united by astute casting – Zoe Kazan, Tim Blake Nelson, and Tom Waits all impress – and ravishing frontier images that speak to freedom, isolation, and ultimately mortality’s shadow.
Beasts of No Nation (2015, 137 minutes): One of the very first Netflix originals, where the savage, scarring plight of African child soldiers – with Idris Elba as their abusive, messianic leader – is captured with vivid strokes and lasting pain in this drama from True Detective director Cary Joji Fukunaga.
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014, 119 minutes): Alejandro G. Inarritu's dexterous and dazzling comic drama about the untold performances that comprise a life, finds Michael Keaton’s fading Hollywood star on Broadway with Emma Stone, Edward Norton, and Naomi Watts offering complications and support. Come for the gorgeously fluid long takes, stay for the flights of wonder.
Blue is the Warmest Colour (2013, 180 minutes): An intensely detailed French dissection of the love affair between Lea Seydoux and Adele Exarchopoulos’ young women that comingles passion and time’s passing to paint a complete picture of a single relationship.
Brooklyn (2015, 111 minutes): Saoirse Ronan embodies the daunting uncertainty of taking stock of your life in a foreign land as Eilis, a lone immigrant arrived in 1950s New York from cloistered Ireland. It’s a coming of age tale where the period detail offers a sharper focus than mere nostalgia, with Emory Cohen a terrific foil as the Brooklyn plumber who falls for her.
Cam (2018, 94 minutes): Daniel Goldhaber’s online reprise of body horror is a bracing example of horror’s new and instructively weird indie wave, tracing with throbbing unease the psychological fracture of an approval-fuelled (and paid) cam girl (Madeline Brewer) when a doppelganger takes control of her video feed.
Cargo (2018, 103 minutes): For once an Australian genre film – in this case society’s collapse after a zombie apocalypse – makes more use of this country than the landscape. On the run with his baby daughter, Andy (Martin Freeman) finds himself in a world starting over, with Indigenous history and the crimes against it to the fore.
Children of Men (2006, 109 minutes): A dystopic thriller has never felt as immediate and connected to our times as it does in Alfonso Cuaron’s movie about the mission of Clive Owen’s lapsed activist to protect the lone pregnant woman in a barren, collapsing world.
Clueless (1995, 97 minutes): A knowingly sweet teen comedy from Amy Heckerling whose best lines live on as memes, but the film itself remains a perfectly calculated pleasure with Alicia Silverstone as the teenage sophisticate Cher.
Contagion (2011, 106 minutes): It’s the end of the world as we know it, and Steven Soderbergh feels more than fine. A very scary vision of a worldwide pandemic beginning with Gwyneth Paltrow’s death allows an ensemble cast to shine.
Daughters of the Dust (1991, 112 minutes): Rediscovered in the wake of Beyonce’s Lemonade, which took visual and thematic inspiration from it, Julie Dash’s feature is part of the hidden lineage of African-American cinema as a family’s celebration reveals their history and their future.
Drive (2011, 100 minutes): Luscious neon streetscapes and Ryan Gosling’s best Steve McQueen vibe combine in this violent automotive noir that is elevated by Carey Mulligan’s presence. Director Nicolas Winding Refn’s artful excess has never had a more appealing palate.
Dunkirk (2017, 106 minutes): War is a succession of moments – unexpected, destructive, or simply horrifying – in Christopher Nolan’s recreation of the British army’s World War II evacuation from a French seaside town. Three concentric timelines snap together, but the conceit never detracts from the compositions, which are stark and resonant.
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982, 115 minutes): “I’m keeping him.” Steve Spielberg’s heartfelt embrace of childhood possibility and loss will always be one of his best movies.
Election (2005, 100 minutes): Punctuated by coolly eruptive action, Hong Kong filmmaker Johnnie To masterfully depicts the paradoxes that follow a Triad’s contested leadership vote: chaos settles the organisation, violence is an adjunct of procedure, and individuals destroy each other to serve the collective.
Get Out (2017, 104 minutes): Jordan Peele’s breakthrough horror film made for insidious social commentary as a young black man (Daniel Kaluuya) grows increasingly suspicious when he and his white girlfriend (Allison Williams) visit her wealthy parents (Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford). Cultural appropriation has never been so harrowing.
Good Time (2017, 101 minutes): When a pair of co-dependant brothers, played by Robert Pattinson and Benny Safdie (who also directs alongside his brother Josh), rob a New York bank they tumble into a netherworld of documentary-like street realism and compelling chaos that’s nerve-jangling and revealing.
Goodfellas (1990, 145 minutes): Anthropology has never been more arresting than in Martin Scorsese’s organised crime epic, which has the sweeping camera movements and jarring edits to reflect the combustible rise and fall of gangsters played by Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci.
The Handmaiden (2016, 144 minutes): The costume drama becomes a deliciously sensual and scabrous thriller in the hands of South Korean director Park Chan-wook, who uses different viewpoints to tell of a criminal plot turned obsessive love between a trapped heiress and her servant that achieve thrilling liberation.
Hanna (2011, 110 minutes): Fairy-tale intrigue and malevolent European charm circulate through this adolescent action film, where Saoirse Ronan plays a teenage assassin trained in the northern wilderness by her father (Eric Bana) and then sent to kill his CIA adversary (Cate Blanchett). Score by the Chemical Brothers, subtext by the Brothers Grimm.
I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore (2017, 93 minutes): Macon Blair’s Sundance Film Festival winner is a comic vigilante thriller where common decency motivates the unlikely heroes – Melanie Lynskey’s nursing assistant and Elijah Woods’ nunchucks-wielding neighbour – on an increasingly dangerous quest.
It Follows (2015, 100 minutes): Youthful pleasure is consumed by the ultimate sexually transmitted disease in David Robert Mitchell’s modern horror classic: an entity of unknown origin and shape-shifting form pursues a young woman (Maika Monroe), whose new boyfriend has passed an otherworldly curse to her.
The Lobster (2015, 118 minutes): A dystopian comedy of gloriously deadpan dimensions, the English language debut of Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos turns relationships into a bureaucratic nightmare as Rachel Weisz, Colin Farrell and Lea Seydoux bring to life a truly cutting vision.
The Lost City of Z (2016, 140 minutes): Writer/director James Gray reworks the historic epic, giving intimate yearning and telling detail to the story of a British explorer (Charlie Hunnam) consumed by his explorations in an Amazon jungle that comes alive with consumptive vastness.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015, 120 minutes): The best action film of this century, or simply of all time? Either way, George Miller rebooted his post-apocalyptic franchise with Tom Hardy as the taciturn anti-hero and Charlize Theron as a feminist rebel for the ages to create a magisterial automotive experience.
Manchester by the Sea (2016, 137 minutes): Tragedy has repeatedly been the starting point for startling change in the films of Kenneth Lonergan, and it finds both an inscrutable humour and visceral force in this story of a tragic exile (Casey Affleck) returning to his hometown to look after his nephew (Lucas Hedges).
Mean Girls (2004, 97 minutes): It turns out “fetch” did happen. Fronted by Lindsay Lohan, this endearingly savage high school comedy written by Tina Fey and directed by Mark Waters used swingeing satire and deadpan gags to update the high school clique comedy.
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (2017, 112 minutes): Noah Baumbach’s vision of the artistic family – exasperating, cruelly cutting, righteously blind to tragic outcomes – finds full expression in this study of a retired New York sculptor (Dustin Hoffman) and his children (including Ben Stiller and, yes, Adam Sandler).
Mudbound (2017, 134 minutes): Nominated for four Academy Awards, Dee Rees’ magisterial film is a study of historic divisions set in segregated rural Mississippi in the 1940s, but it has such a poetically tragic sense of the characters and their limitations that it transcends the period setting.
Mulholland Dr. (2001, 146 minutes): One of the best – that is deeply inexplicable and hauntingly resonant – movies of this century, David Lynch’s film noir-like journey is a mystery about identity that resides in the subconscious of the filmmaker and his characters, especially Naomi Watts’ ingénue.
Okja (2017, 121 minutes): The South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho makes masterfully thrilling movies about capitalism’s crimes – they can sweep you up, but also scar your soul. Here a young girl, Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun) tries to save her genetically modified super pig from its corporate owners amidst heart-fluttering flourishes and cruel realities.
Paddington (2014, 95 minutes): The best family film of the last decade, rich with inviting design and repellent of xenophobia, it allows the gentle antics of a Peruvian bear new to London (voiced by Ben Whishaw) to save a family, bestow a purpose, and defy Nicole Kidman’s cartoonish villain.
Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973, 102 minutes): This is a shorter cuts of a much fought over and re-edited movie, but in any finished form Sam Peckinpah’s film is a great revisionist western. Starring James Coburn and Kris Kristofferson, as the hardnosed sheriff and murderous outlaw respectively of the title, it reveals the bloody reality of Wild West myths.
Paterson (2016, 117 minutes): Jim Jarmusch’s yen for idiosyncratic pocket universes alights on a New Jersey city where a bus driver and poet (Adam Driver) and his creative enthusiast of a wife (Golshifteh Farahani) explore personal contentment and the value of personal expression in a wonderful paean to the possibilities of everyday life.
Private Life (2018, 124 minutes): As a downtown Manhattan couple trying to have a baby on the difficult side of 40, Kathryn Hahn and Pail Giamatti provide bittersweet experience amid the piercing observations of Tamara Jenkins’ domestic drama. Lives get messed up and worn down, until you discover the enduring bedrock of the couple’s connection.
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981, 115 minutes): Steven Spielberg’s tribute to old Hollywood adventure serials is full of iconic action sequences, tart twists, and surreptitiously perverse pleasures. It hasn’t aged a day.
Results (2015, 105 minutes): An offbeat independent romantic comedy that boasts a remarkable performance from Cobie Smulders as a personal trainer with a furious certainty about what she doesn’t want in life.
Roma (2018, 135 minutes): Titanic as an act of social memory, intimate as personal memoir, and shot in exquisite black and white images, Alfonso Cuaron’s magisterial depiction of an indigenous maid (Yalitza Aparicio) and her relationship with the Mexico City family that employs – and implores – her is magisterial piece of filmmaking.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010, 112 minutes): Years before Baby Driver, British filmmaker Edgar Wright brought his whimsical whiplash to America with this story of an indie-rock dilettante (Michael Cera) levelling up to confront the ex-boyfriends of his new girlfriend (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Has bonus Kieran Culkin troublemaking.
Set It Up (2018, 105 minutes): Credit to Netflix’s algorithms for getting right that audiences were ready for the comeback of vintage – i.e. circa 1996 – romantic comedies. Claire Scanlon’s workplace romance follows a pair of 20something assistants (Zoey Deutch and Glenn Powell) who get their demanding bosses together and then fall for each other.
Spotlight (2015, 128 minutes): Damning in its dedicated precision, Tom McCarthy’s Academy Award Best Picture winner tells the real life story of the Boston journalists who exposed a child abuse scandal covered up by the city’s institutions.
Tower (2016, 96 minutes): A riveting, fluid documentary that mixes archival tenseness and tone-shifting animation, this incredibly intimate invocation returns to a 1966 that is year zero for American mass shootings.
Trainspotting (1996, 94 minutes): Sleazy, stinging and sometimes surreal, Danny Boyle’s black comedy about a wayward pack of Edinburgh junkies has survived carrying generation-defining weight (and a so-so sequel) to resonate.
The Truman Show (1998, 103 minutes): A comic critique of reality television before we knew what it actually was, Peter Weir’s satire about a man (Jim Carrey) whose life is televised is richly allusive.
Under the Shadow (2016, 84 minutes): Set in 1980s wartime Tehran, Babak Anvari’s horror film about a menacing spirit nightmarishly mixes ancient myth and contemporary political repression to terrifying effect.
The Wailing (2016, 155 minutes): Na Hong-jin’s arresting horror thriller, about an inept rural police officer investigating bloody crimes, suggests that dread and curiosity are essentially the same thing even as doleful humour and an everyday mood obscure a grim but inscrutable outlook.
The Wolf of Wall Street (2013, 179 minutes): In Martin Scorsese’s pungently grotesque comedy excess and stupidity spiral out of control thanks to the financial system’s protective privilege. Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill are ambitious bottom-feeders deranged by wealth who can’t stop themselves.
Zodiac (2007, 157 minutes): Provocatively relevant in the way it documents how obsession and conspiracy are intertwined, David Fincher’s vast true crime mystery is a frightening procedural that engulfs Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, and Robert Downey Jr.
>> Want BINGE-R sent to your inbox? Click here for the weekly e-mail.