The Best Movies on Netflix Right Now (December 2018)

[Last Updated: December 14th]

We’ve all been there. You’ve decided you’re going to watch a movie. You have the entirety of Netflix at your disposal, including even a pared down list of films you’ve already noted to watch at a future date. But then there’s the choosing. You’ve gotta find something that fits your mood, or something you and your friend/significant other/couch companion can agree on. You spend hours browsing, and by the time you stumble on something you think maybe is the one, it’s too late, you’re too tired, and indecision has won out.

Never fear, though, because we here at Collider have a guide to help you find the perfect Netflix choice. We’ve thumbed through the library and assembled a list of some of the best films currently available for streaming, so peruse our highlights below, which will be updated weekly and are currently up to date for December 2018. Maybe the perfect choice is right here.

RELATED: Best TV Shows on Netflix Right Now and Best Movies on Amazon Prime Right Now and Best Horror Movies on Netflix Right Now and Best Sci-Fi Movies on Netflix Right Now and Best TV Shows on Amazon Prime Right Now.

ROMA

Image via Netflix

Director/Writer: Alfonso Cuarón

Cast: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Fernando Grediaga, Jorge Antonio Guerrero, and Marco Graf

ROMA is a masterpiece. Filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón, who won an Oscar for Gravity and has pushed the boundaries of cinema with films like Children of Men and even Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, digs deep into his soul for this new drama, which recreates his childhood as told through the eyes of a domestic worker named Cleo. As this middle class family living in 1970s Mexico City falls apart, Cuarón’s unique cinematography positions the viewer as an objective observer. That role becomes more and more heartbreaking as you, the viewer, become more emotionally invested in the lives of these individuals. Effective on any sized screen, ROMA is Netflix’s best original film to date. – Adam Chitwood

The Breakfast Club

Image via Universal Pictures

Directed/Written by: John Hughes

Cast: Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy, Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, Anthony Michael Hall, and Paul Gleason

What is there to say about The Breakfast Club that hasn’t already been said? John Hughes’ 1985 film is a classic for a reason, and it set a precedent for how a teen movie could encapsulate multiple life experiences at once. Set over the course of one day during an all-day detention at high school, the film revolves around an “athlete” (Emilio Estevez), a “brain” (Anthony Michael Hall), a “basket case” (Ally Sheedy), a “princess” (Molly Ringwald) and a “criminal” (Judd Nelson) as these five schoolmates learn that there’s far more lurking under the surface than the labels which they’ve already attached to one another. It’s hilarious, sweet, and surprisingly deep, and it’s been imitated more times than anyone can count. it’s also one of the most rewatchable movies ever made and holds up remarkably well. – Adam Chitwood

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

Image via Sony Pictures

Directors/Writers: Phil Lord and Chris Miller

Cast: Bill Hader, Anna Faris, James Caan, Andy Samberg, Bruce Campbell, Mr. T, Benjamin Bratt, and Neil Patrick Harris

Before filmmakers Phil Lord and Chris Miller upended convention with wildly entertaining films like The LEGO Movie and the Jump Street films, they wrote and directed the 2009 animated feature Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs—and it is delightful. The film is absolutely in the same vein of Lord and Miller’s other films; a mix of goofy humor, gloriously intricate jokes, inventive visuals, and most importantly genuine compassion. Bill Hader voices a wannabe scientist named Flint who lives in a tiny town called Swallow Falls, which is thrown into peril when one of Flint’s wild inventions starts turning water into food, at which point it literally starts raining all sorts of delicious—and gigantic—treats. It’s a great film for all ages really, and a terrifically science-positive story. – Adam Chitwood

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Image via Netflix

Directors/Writers: Joel and Ethan Coen

Cast: Tim Blake Nelson, Tyne Daly, James Franco, Brendan Gleeson, Bill Heck, Grainger Hines, Zoe Kazan, Harry Melling, Liam Neeson, Jonjo O’Neill, Chelcie Ross, Saul Rubinek, Tom Waits, Clancy Brown, Jefferson Mays, Stephen Root, and Willie Watson

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs may not go down as an all-time great Coen Brothers movie, but it helps to crystalize their themes on death and morality as clearly as some of their best works. The anthology movie contains six stories of varying tone from the riotous “Ballad of Buster Scruggs” to the deeply melancholy “Meal Ticket”, but they all have something do with death, with the western genre used as a cohesive baseline. While folks will argue over which shorts are the best (I personally haven’t been able to shake “The Gal Who Got Rattled”), even the weakest Coens is better than the best work of other filmmakers. Even if you’re not a Coen Brothers die-hard, there’s still plenty to enjoy and ponder in their Netflix movie. – Matt Goldberg

In Bruges

Image via Focus Features

Director/Writer: Martin McDonagh

Cast: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes, Clémence Poésy, and Jérémie Renier

If you’re in the mood for something along the lines of “funny/sad”, filmmaker Martin McDonagh’s fantastic dark comedy In Bruges is a must-watch. The 2008 film marked a significant turning point in Colin Farrell’s career from “movie star” to serious actor, and he turns in one of his finest performances as a guilt-riddled hitman who is sent to Bruges along with his mentor (played by Brendan Gleeson) to await further instructions for their next job. As the two hang around the city, their melancholy turns to tension as twists and turns abound. At heart, though, McDonagh’s film is incredibly sweet and good-natured, even if the bleak aesthetics reflect the depression of the two main characters. And did I mention the humor? For all its seriousness and dramatic qualities, In Bruges is also downright hilarious, with Farrell and Gleeson proving to be an adept and highly watchable comedic duo. Funny, thrilling, and sweet with plenty of gunplay to boot, In Bruges is one of the best films of the decade so far. – Adam Chitwood

Black Panther

Image via Marvel Studios

Director: Ryan Coogler

Writers: Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole

Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Angela Bassett, Daniel Kaluuya, Winston Duke, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis, and Martin Freeman

Marvel Studios has an excellent track record of crafting supremely entertaining movies, but Black Panther marks the MCU’s most mature, ambitious, and thematically complete film yet. Creed and Fruitvale Station filmmaker Ryan Coogler digs into themes of isolationism and what it mean to be black in America within the context of an extremely exciting, visually enthralling superhero action film. That in and of itself makes Black Panther noteworthy, but the film also boasts terrific performances from folks like Letitia Wright and Lupita Nyong’o, while Michael B. Jordan brings to life one of the MCU’s best and most emotionally complex villains to date. Black Panther is a stunning achievement for Marvel, and it’s one well worth revisiting just to soak in the attention to detail—both in terms of superheroics and complex themes—that Coogler threads throughout. – Adam Chitwood

To All the Boys I've Loved Before

Image via Netflix

Director: Susan Johnson

Writer: Sofia Alvarez

Cast: Lana Condor, Janel Parrish, Anna Cathcart, Noah Centineo, Israel Broussard, and John Corbett 

If you’re looking for a fun, sweet, YA romance to brighten your day, you won’t do much better on Netflix than To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. Based off the novel by Jenny Han, the story follows Lara Jean (Lana Condor), a teenager whose worst nightmares are realized when five letters she wrote to her secret crushes are sent out without her knowledge. When she’s confronted by her old crush Peter (Noah Centineo), she’s afraid it could get in the way of her current crush Josh (Israel Broussard), so Lara Jean and Peter resolve to fake a relationship so they can get with who they really want to be with. Naturally, pretending to be together starts to create real feelings between the two. The film is a joy from start to finish, letting you relive a time when who “liked” you was the most important thing in the world, but without any of the trauma high school entails. – Matt Goldberg

Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Image via Sony Pictures

Director/Writer: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Richard Dreyfuss, Teri Garr, Melinda Dillon, and Francois Truffaut

It’s kind of incredible that for his follow-up feature to Jaws, the film that really put him on the map as a filmmaker to watch, Steven Spielberg put all his cards on the table with a wildly ambitious, challenging sci-fi film. 1977’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind is the story of a blue-collar worker (Richard Dreyfuss) who encounters a UFO and finds his life forever changed, fueled by his obsession to find the truth behind the alien lifeforms. As with most of Spielberg’s work, it’s rooted in family drama and is really the story of how a father’s obsession kind of destroys his family. The film was nominated for eight Oscars in total, including Spielberg’s first-ever Best Director nom, but while it only won one—for Vilmos Zsigmond’s stunning cinematography—it remains of the greatest and most engrossing sci-fi films ever made. – Adam Chitwood

The Truman Show

Image via Paramount Pictures

Director: Peter Weir

Writer: Andrew Niccol

Cast: Jim Carrey, Ed Harris, Laura Linney, Noah Emmerich, and Holland Taylor

The Truman Show doesn’t get enough credit for being the phenomenal film that it truly is. Upon release, the film was seen as a chance for Jim Carrey to try his hand at being dramatic or an EdTV-esque opportunistic feature about the emerging “reality TV” genre. But in actuality, Peter Weir crafted a brilliant satire about humanity’s voyeuristic nature and consumerism. Carrey really does turn in an absolutely stellar performance as a man whose entire life has been part of an elaborate reality television show without his knowledge, shot inside a massive soundstage in Hollywood. As he begins to uncover the truth about his existence, the entire framework of the world around him begins to unravel, and he questions what—if anything—was real. It’s hilarious, sad, and ultimately touching, and absolutely one of the best films of the 1990s. – Adam Chitwood

Hercules

Directed by: John Musker, Ron Clements

Written by: John Musker, Ron Clements, Donald McEnery, Bob Shaw, Irene Mecchi

Cast: Tate Donovan, Susan Egan, Danny DeVito, James Woods, Rip Torn, Frank Welker, Bobcat Goldthwait, Amanda Plummer, Paul Shaffer, Wayne Knight, Keith David, and Hal Holbrook

Hercules came at an interesting time for Walt Disney Animation Studios, which was still trying to recapture the same zeitgeist-commanding fame of films like The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast. And while Hercules isn’t a home run like those early 90s Disney films, it’s a pretty delightful double. The animated retelling of the Hercules story is incredibly funny and colorful as we follow the young Hercules trying to find his place in the world, knowing he was meant for something greater. It’s almost something of a Superman remake, but with gods instead of superheroes. The songs are fantastic, and Megara is a refreshingly independent female lead. Who puts the glad in gladiator? – Adam Chitwood

Ex Machina

Image via A24 FIlms

Director/Writer: Alex Garland

Cast: Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, and Sonoya Mizuno

Alex Garland made a splash with his screenplays for films like 28 Days Later and Dredd, but his directorial debut Ex Machina is really something else. Domhnall Gleeson plays a computer programmer named Caleb working for a search engine company who is invited to the isolated home of the company’s CEO, an enigmatic Steve Jobs-like figure named Nathan (Oscar Isaac). He’s been brought to this remote compound to interact with a humanoid robot that Nathan built called Ava (Alicia Vikander), and to essentially perform a Turing test. But secrets lurk in the dark halls of Nathan’s compound, and within this sci-fi story Garland explores issues relating to A.I., toxic masculinity, and gender dynamics in fascinating ways. It’s a thrilling, surprising, and wholly unique piece of cinema that’s impossible to shake long after the credits have rolled. – Adam Chitwood

De Palma

Image via Metrodome

Directors: Noah Baumabch and Jake Paltrow

De Palma is an absolute must-watch for any and all cinephiles, whether you’re a fan of Brian De Palma’s work or not. The film’s conceit is basically that filmmakers and De Palma fans Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow sit the legendary director in front of a camera and pepper him with a litany of questions that cover his entire career, for which De Palma is more than happy to be absolutely candid. Hear stories about the making of films like Scarface, Blow Out, and Untouchables, his friendship with filmmakers like Martin Scorsese and George Lucas (and subsequent jealousy when their careers went stratospheric and his didn’t), and the creative tensions on the set of Mission: Impossible. You’ll walk away wanting Baumbach and Paltow to turn this into a series of documentaries about various filmmakers running through their entire filmographies. – Adam Chitwood

The Witch

Image via A24

Director/Writer: Robert Eggers

Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, and Harvey Scrimshaw

Wouldst thou like to live deliciously? So bellows The Witch, one of the scariest (and prettiest) horror movies in recent memory. This wholly original story was billed as “A New England Folktale,” and indeed it takes place in 1630s New England and follows a family who has been banished from a Puritan plantation for being too religious. Now secluded near the woods, strange happenings begin to occur—like the kidnapping of their baby—and the parents fall further and further into madness, all the while young Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy, who you know from Split) tries to hold everything together. It’s gorgeous, terrifying, and builds to an operatic finale that you won’t soon forget. This isn’t your typical jump-scare or masked menace horror flick. It’s something far more sinister. – Adam Chitwood

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Image via Universal Pictures

Director: Edgar Wright

Writers: Michael Bacall & Edgar Wright

Cast: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Alison Pill, Mark Webber, Johnny Simmons, Ellen Wong, Kieran Culkin, Anna Kendrick, Aubrey Plaza, and Jason Schwartzman.

Edgar Wright’s adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s outstanding comic didn’t find much of an audience upon its release, but over the years it has grown into a cult classic. The movie follows Scott Pilgrim (Cera), a sweet if slightly selfish and misguided young man who falls for delivery girl Ramona Flowers (Winstead). He can only continue to date her if he defeats her seven evil exes. Scott’s comfortable with the video game framework, but the film is really about two people discovering they have to get over their own baggage if they’re going to find new love. Wright decorates the whole picture with video game tropes and fun little nods, but never loses sight of the core romantic story. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is funny, effervescent, and only gets better on repeat viewings. – Matt Goldberg

Private Life

Image via Netflix

Director/Writer: Tamara Jenkins

Cast: Kathryn Hahn, Paul Giamatti, Kayli Carter, Molly Shannon, John Carroll Lynch, Desmin Borges, and Denis O’Hare

Tamara Jenkins’ new movie, Private Life, is a deft balancing act that plunges viewers into the frustration, anxiety, and hardship of a couple struggling to conceive, and yet it never loses sight of the humanity and even moments of odd comedy in their struggle. Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti play Rachel and Richard Biegler, a couple in their late 40s who are desperately trying to get pregnant, but despite putting themselves through the fertility grinder, are no closer to having a child. When they learn that their only chance is an egg donor, they decide they want it to be someone they know, and land upon their wayward niece (not blood-related) Sadie (Kayli Carter), a well-meaning if slightly flighty young woman in her mid-20s to be their donor. When she agrees, it ends up creating new, unforeseen complications, but never anything so outlandish that it breaks the movie’s powerful credibility.

Private Life is remarkable for a multitude of reasons, but it demands to be seen for Hahn’s remarkable performance. She has to play so many different levels and yet it’s not simply a case of “most acting” but fine-tuning her outrage and her heartache based on the scene. Sometimes she gets to lash out, but other times she has to bury her pain so that it doesn’t make other people uncomfortable. It’s easily one of the best performances of 2018. – Matt Goldberg

Children of Men

Image via Universal Pictures

Directed by: Alfonso Cuaron

Written by: Alfonso Cuaron, Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus, and Hawk Otsby

Cast: Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Clare-Hope Ashitey, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Charlie Hunnam

If you’re looking to bulk up on filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron’s work before or after watching his Netflix original ROMA, you can’t go wrong with his 2006 masterpiece Children of Men. The sci-fi film was Cuaron’s follow-up to Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and takes place in the U.K. in 2027, where the world is on the brink of collapse after 18 years of global infertility. The U.K. has the world’s last functioning government and is a haven for immigrants seeking asylum, and one such refugee just so happens to be pregnant. Clive Owen plays a former activist turned cynic who is tasked with protecting the woman, who may be humanity’s last hope if she can make it out of danger alive. The film is depressingly relevant for the world in 2018, but Cuaron’s filmmaking is immaculate (there are two long single-take scenes that are among the greatest in history) and the performances are incredible. – Adam Chitwood

Coco

Image via Disney-Pixar

Director: Lee Unkrich

Writers: Adrian Molina and Matthew Aldrich

Cast: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael Garcia Bernal, Benjmain Bratt, Alanna Ubach, Renee Victor, Ana Ofelia Murguia, Edward James Olmos

Although Pixar isn’t the unstoppable force it once was, they can still put together a great movie from time to time and Coco is definitely the studio operating at the top of its game. While it certainly falls into the familiar Pixar tropes—a buddy movie where two characters go on a trip of some kind—Lee Unkrich’s film stands apart due to its deep and abiding love for Mexican culture and putting the importance of family at the core of the story.

The movie boasts excellent music, a heartwarming story, memorable characters, and eye-popping design as its leads traverse the Land of the Dead on Dia de Los Muertos. Although I thought the film would be enjoyable, I didn’t expect it to eventually move me to tears. This is a movie you need to see with your family. – Matt Goldberg

Good Will Hunting

Image via Miramax

Director: Gus Van Sant

Writers: Matt Damon & Ben Affleck

Cast: Matt Damon, Robin Williams, Minnie Driver, Ben Affleck, Casey Affleck, and Stellan Skarsgård

Surely one of the most memorable Academy Award acceptance speeches of all time has to be the excitable young twentysomethings Matt Damon and Ben Affleck taking home the award for Best Original Screenplay in 1998. And nearly two decades later, while Damon and Affleck have yet to return to the page, it’s hard to argue with that win for Good Will Hunting. The drama was a passion project for the two burgeoning performers, and it shows. There’s an adoration for its characters that shines through, as the duo (and director Gun Van Sant) chronicle a divide between Boston working class and academia with a tremendous emotional center. Robin Williams turns in one of his best performances as Damon’s therapist, and Damon himself delivers a star-making turn that was a sign of things to come. While the film invaded the zeitgeist so fully that it’s now become a cultural punching bag of sorts, it remains a deeply felt, funny, and involving drama that more than deserved the acclaim it received. Trust me, this one holds up. – Adam Chitwoood

Her

Image via Warner Bros.

Director/Writer: Spike Jonze

Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde, and Chris Pratt

Filmmaker Spike Jonze’s 2013 film Her garnered a few snickers when the premise was revealed: A story of a man who falls in love with his operating system. But when folks got a look at the film, they weren’t laughing. Her is one of the best films of the decade—a deeply felt, gorgeous, heartbreaking story of love, loneliness, and what it means to be a human on the planet Earth. Joaquin Phoenix delivers a phenomenal lead performance, and Scarlett Johansson is magnificent in the voice role of Samantha. The cinematography by Hoye van Hoytema is warm and inviting, the score by Arcade Fire is immensely moving. This is a film that’s pretty much perfect from top to bottom, and by the end you my find yourself in a puddle of tears over just how darn beautiful the whole thing is. Do yourself a favor and give Her a shot. – Adam Chitwood

The Shining

Image via Warner Bros.

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Writer: Stanley Kubrick

Cast: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, and Scatman Crothers

The Shining remains the most terrifying film I’ve ever seen. There’s something haunting and demented within these frames, and indeed the production of one of Stanley Kubrick’s masterpieces has been covered in depth. The unending takes, the mind tricks—poor Shelley Duvall. But you can’t deny the fact that Kubrick’s exacting nature paid off, and in the end he crafted an iconic piece of cinematic history; a masterful chronicle of madness. — Adam Chitwood

Gone Baby Gone

Image via Miramax

Director: Ben Affleck

Writers: Ben Affleck and Aaron Stockard

Cast: Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Amy Ryan, Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris, and Titus Welliver

Ben Affleck’s 2007 directorial debut Gone Baby Gone remains one of his best directorial efforts, and for good reason. Affleck created his own comeback by drilling deep into Denins Lehane’s source material to craft a character-rich, patient crime drama that amplifies the terrific performances of Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, and Amy Ryan. Casey Affleck and Monaghan play Boston P.I.’s who are hired to help search for a missing young girl, but must traverse the seedy Boston criminal underworld if they’re to be successful. This is a complicated, tense, and ultimately moving story told with perfect restraint by Affleck behind the camera. – Adam Chitwood

Thor: Ragnarok

Image via Marvel Studios

Director: Taika Waititi

Writers: Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, and Christopher Yost

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Mark Ruffalo, Tessa Thompson, Jeff Goldblum, Karl Urban, Idris Elba, Anthony Hopkins, and Taika Waititi

Thor: Ragnarok is not just one of the best Marvel Studios movies so far, it’s indicative of how the MCU is beginning to evolve a decade into its run. For the third standalone Thor film, director Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows) essentially breaks the character down and builds him back up again, anew. Gone are Thor’s long locks, self-seriousness, and pomposity. Instead we get a rockin’ haircut and sense of humor, and at last Chris Hemsworth’s magnetic charisma shines through. Ragnarok is an absolute blast of a film, a movie that never takes itself seriously and is basically an eye-popping thrill ride from beginning to end. – Adam Chitwood

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Image via Focus Features

Director: Michel Gondry

Writer: Charlie Kaufman

Cast: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Mark Ruffalo, Kirsten Dunst, and Tom Wilkinson

Quite possibly one of the most impactful “breakup” movies ever made, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind also Charlie Kaufman’s only Oscar-winning screenplay despite nominations for a number of his other brilliant works. Wholly unique, Eternal Sunshine stars Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet as an estranged couple who have opted to have each other erased from their memories, but as Carrey’s character goes though the experience, reliving the memories one by one as they slip away, he begins to have regrets. There’s a wonderful analog approach to how Michel Gondry visualized this sci-fi story, and the performances by Carrey and Winslet remain stunning. Kaufman is truly one of the medium’s most unique and gifted screenwriters—only he could come up with a story this odd yet also so endearing. – Adam Chitwood

Face/Off

Image via Paramount Pictures

Directed by: John Woo

Written by: Mike Werb and Michael Colleary

Cast: Nicolas Cage, John Travolta, Joan Allen, Gina Gershon, and Alessandro Nivola

Face/Off is one of those insane 90s action movies that not only reminds you how ridiculous 90s action movies could be, but that they also attracted big, A-list talent. The film is basically an excuse for Nicolas Cage and John Travolta to have a field day with their performances, as Travolta plays FBI Agent Sean Archer, a man with a tortured past who is hell bent on apprehending a homicidal sociopath named Castor Troy, played by Cage, and putting an end to his reign of terror. Archer finally captures Troy, but Troy refuses to reveal the location of a bomb. The solution? Archer undergoes a face transplant, has his face replaced with Troy’s, and goes undercover. The problem? Troy wakes up faceless and takes Archer’s face in return. As a result, Travolta gets to play a serial killer pretending to be an FBI agent while Cage plays an FBI agent pretending to be a serial killer. If you think about it too hard your head will almost certainly hurt, but if you sit back and watch the slo-mo delights and ACTING! theatrics, you’ll have a blast. – Adam Chitwood

No Country for Old Men

Image via Miramax

Directors/Writers: Joel and Ethan Coen

Cast: Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Kelly Macdonald, and Tommy Lee Jones

In hindsight, No Country for Old Men winning Best Picture is one of the boldest moves the Academy has ever made. It was not the easy choice. Atonement and even There Will Be Blood would have been far more traditional picks for the Academy, but they went for it. They gave credit where it was due, and honored the Coen Brothers’ masterful Cormac McCarthy adaptation with four major Oscars. The film is severe and challenging, with one of the all-time great villain performances from Javier Bardem, playing a character who remains enigmatic throughout. It’s a tough movie, but that’s exactly what makes it so special. If you were lukewarm on first watch, give it another go. It takes a few viewings to really soak in the brilliance of what the Coens are doing here, and boy is it special. – Adam Chitwood

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Image via Lucasfilm

Director/Writer: Rian Johnson

Cast: Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Oscar Isaac, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern, Benicio Del Toro, Gwendoline Christie, and Andy Serkis

Love it or hate it, you have to admit Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a bold film. It’d have been easy for Looper filmmaker Rian Johnson to simply craft a fan service-y Force Awakens sequel that follows all the expected storytelling beats, but instead he leaned hard into character POVs—specifically those of Rey and Kylo Ren, telling a story mostly through their eyes. The result is a wildly thrilling, wholly original, and surprising sequel that delivers entertainment and thematic heft in equal measure. It’s a story about self-doubt, growth, and the spark of a rebellion, and it’s lovingly crafted with show-stopping, iconic visuals like the Throne Room set piece and Holdo’s gasp-inducing moment. Whether you’re watching The Last Jedi for the first for 15th time, you’re getting a whole meal of a movie. – Adam Chitwood

22 July

Image via Netflix

Director/Writer: Paul Greengrass

Cast: Anders Danielsen Lie, Jon Øigarden, Thorbjørn Harr, Jonas Strand Gravli, Ola G. Furuseth, and Ulrikke Hansen Døvigen

In 2011, a far-right terrorist exploded a bomb at a government office in Norway and then made his way to a youth summer camp on an island, where he opened fire and killed 77 people in total. Bourne and United 93 filmmaker Paul Greengrass captures this terrorist attack in excruciating detail in the opening half hour of 22 July, but the film then moves on to the aftermath, where Greengrass contrasts the story of the terrorist—who was captured, affored an attorney, and sought to relay his political message—with that one one of his victims, a young boy who was shot in the head and faces a long road to recovery. The story is one of finding hope and courage in the face of absolute evil, and holds renewed relevance for 2018 as far-right groups are on the rise. This is a harrowing, emotional, and necessary film. – Adam Chitwood

Carol

Image via The Weinstein Company

Director: Todd Haynes

Writer: Phyllis Nagy

Cast: Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Sarah Paulson, Jake Lacy, and Kyle Chandler

Carol is a sumptuous, sensual love story told with elegance and grace. Based on the book The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith, the film takes place in 1952 Manhattan, where an aspiring photographer (Rooney Mara) crosses paths with a glamorous married woman (Cate Blanchett), the titular Carol. The film explores homosexuality in the mid-20th century, as Carol has a couple decades more experience as a closeted lesbian than this young woman. The two strike up a relationship that is fraught with fear, lust, and true love, and director Todd Haynes captures it all in a way that never feels exploitative. Cinematographer Ed Lachman shoots the film to look like an old photograph or a half-forgotten memory, and before you know it you’ve been swept off your feet. – Adam Chitwood

Brick

Image via Focus Features

Director/Writer: Rian Johnson

Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emilie de Ravin, Nora Zehetner, Lukas Haas, Matt O’Leary, Noah Segan, and Richard Roundtree

Before Rian Johnson put his stamp on the Star Wars universe, he first broke out with his feature film Brick. The 2005 indie is a neo-noir mystery starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a high school student who receives a troubling phone call from his ex-girlfriend asking for his help. She’s only able to mutter a few words before the line is cut off, and Gordon-Levitt’s character spends the rest of the film using those clues to track her down. The whole film is crafted as a gorgeous noir, but it revolves around teenagers, offering a refreshing juxtaposition of sorts. It’s supremely well-crafted, and it’s no wonder this film quickly kicked off not only Johnson’s successful film career, but that of his cinematographer Steve Yedlin’s and also Gordon-Levitt’s. Indeed, Brick made the 3rd Rock from the Sun actor’s transition from child star to leading man official. – Adam Chitwood

Se7en

Image via New Line Cinema

Director: David Fincher

Writer: Andrew Kevin Walker

Cast: Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Kevin Spacey

The movie that put David Fincher on the map, Se7en remains a taut, twisted thriller. The story follows detectives Somerset (Morgan Freeman) and Mills (Brad Pitt) as they hunt a serial killer who uses the Seven Deadly Sins as inspiration for his killings. The movie has everyone involved playing at the top of their game in a movie that doesn’t shy away from bleakness or the darkness in humanity. The movie also shows that even with his second film, Fincher was already a master on the rise of cinema, and it’s remarkable to see how far he’s come when Se7en is already such an assured, confident picture. – Matt Goldberg

A Serious Man

Image via Focus Features

Writers/Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen

Cast: Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard King, Fred Melamed, Sari Lennick, Aaron Wolff, and Jessica McManus

Joel and Ethan Coen have rarely been as strange or as autobiographical as they were with their brilliant 2009 film, A Serious Man. The story takes place in the Midwest in 1967 and follows Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg), who’s facing a serious crisis of faith when his wife abruptly decides to divorce him and a student tries to blackmail him into getting a better grade. Larry’s constant refrain of “I didn’t do anything!” is his fragile shield in a world where he thinks simply being a passive person is the same as being a good person. It’s a profound, thoughtful, and yet still funny look at the trials of being Jewish provides through a lens that only the Coens could craft. – Matt Goldberg

L.A. Confidential

Image via Warner Bros.

Directed by: Curtis Hanson

Written by: Brian Helgeland and Curtis Hanson

Cast: Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, Kim Basinger, Kevin Spacey, Danny DeVito, James Cromwell, and David Strathairn

The 1997 noir L.A. Confidential is kind of a perfect movie. In the vein of Chinatown or Double Indemnity, this is classic noir through and through but brought to the screen with vigor, style, and maximum emotional impact by director Curtis Hanson. Based on the James Ellroy novel of the same name, the film stars Guy Pearce as a do-good police sergeant (Guy Pearce) in 1950s L.A. who teams up with a burly cop (Russell Crowe) to find the truth to a deadly mob murder. Police corruption and Hollywood scandal are front and center, but the film never hits a false note. It introduced audiences at large to Pearce and Crowe, both of whom who soar as a result, and the Best Picture nominee was so impactful it inspired an entire video game in L.A. Noire! – Adam Chitwood

Set It Up

Image via Netflix

Director: Claire Scanlon

Writer: Katie Silberman

Cast: Zoey Deutch, Glen Powell, Lucy Liu, and Taye Diggs

If you’re looking for a charming romantic comedy, but don’t want to rewatch something from a previous decade for the umpteenth time, you should definitely give Claire Scanlon’s charming Set It Up a look. The plot follows two beleaguered assistants (Zoey Deutch and Glen Powell) who decided to set up their bosses (Lucy Liu and Taye Diggs, respectively) in order to just get some precious free time away from their demanding jobs. However, with all their scheming, they start to fall for each other. You can see the romcom beats coming from a mile away, but they’re done so well and so effectively that you won’t mind. Plus, the film sizzles thanks to the outstanding performances from the dazzling Deutch and Powell, who should be the streaming generation’s Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. – Matt Goldberg

Enemy

Image via A24

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Writer: Javier Gullón

Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Melanie Laurent, Sarah Gadon, and Isabella Rossellini

Before filmmaker Denis Villeneuve blew minds with Blade Runner 2049 or Arrival, he made a head-spinning psychological thriller called Enemy featuring two of Jake Gyllenhal’s best performances. Yes, two—Enemy revolves around a solitary college history professor who leads a mundane life, only to discover an actor who looks exactly like him. He begins investigating the dopelganger’s life, and reality itself appears to bend as the professor spirals further and further down the rabbit hole. This film is not for everyone—it’s the weirdest thing Villeneuve has made thus far, but it’s no less gorgeous and involving than the rest of his oeuvre. It also features one of the scariest shots ever put to film. Give it a spin and see if you can figure this one out. – Adam Chitwood

The Iron Giant

Image via Warner Bros.

Director: Brad Bird

Writer: Tim McCanlies

Cast: Eli Marienthal, Jennifer Aniston, Harry Connick Jr., Christopher McDonald, and Vin Diesel

A flop upon its initial release back in 1999, The Iron Giant has become a cult classic over the year and eventually found its audience. Brad Bird’s animated adaptation of Ted Hughes’ book follows young Hogarth Hughes (Eli Marienthal), a smart but lonely kid during the Cold War who stumbles across a giant metal robot from outer space. Hogarth befriends the Iron Giant (Vin Diesel) and teaches him about life and death as well as what it means to be a hero rather than a weapon. It’s a beautiful story, and it’s no wonder that the film has found a special place in the hearts of viewers. If you still haven’t seen it, clear your evening plans, and watch it as soon as possible. – Matt Goldberg

The Ritual

Director: David Bruckner

Writer: Joe Barton

Cast: Rafe Spall, Arsher Ali, Robert James-Collier, Sam Troughton

Horror movies are always a gamble–some are great, and deliver more than expected, while others simply tread well-worn territory. The Ritual falls into the former category, as director David Bruckner takes a story about male friendships and growing older (and further apart) and packages it into a terrifying, twisty “monster in the woods” horror film. The film revolves around four friends who go on a hiking trip in Sweden to honor their friend Rob, who was killed six months earlier during a convenience store robbery. But when they take a shortcut through some woods (terrible idea), they find themselves haunted by a malevolent creature. The performances really anchor this thing as a character-rich piece, specifically from lead Rafe Spall, and the creature design itself is absolutely unique (and frightening). The final result is a horror movie that’s downright scary, surprising, and honestly quite thoughtful. It’s the whole package. – Adam Chitwood

Heat

Directed/Written by: Michael Mann

Cast: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Val Kilmer, Amy Brenneman, Tom Sizemore, Ashley Judd, Wes Studi, Jon Voight, Ted Levine, and Natalie Portman

Filmmaker Michael Mann’s crime epic Heat is a must-watch classic, through and through. The film largely influenced Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, as it’s a crime thriller in which the city is as much a character as the various people involved. Robert De Niro plays a career criminal whose crew gets in hot water after a heist goes wrong. Al Pacino plays the LAPD lieutenant hunting him down. And since this is a Michael Mann movie, there are various other character-rich plot threads going on at the same time. De Niro and Pacino famously only have one scene together, but boy does Mann make it count. – Adam Chitwood

Empire Records

Image via Warner Bros.

Directed by: Allan Moyle

Written by: Carol Heikkinen

Cast: Liv Tyler, Ethan Embry, Robin Tunney, Rory Cochrane, Debi Mazar, Anthony LaPaglia, Maxwell Caulfield, and Renee Zellweger

Picture Dazed and Confused meets Almost Famous set at a record store, and you’re close to Empire Records. This 1995 coming-of-age comedy/drama is very of its time, but it’s still endearing all these years later in the same way that Dazed and Confused or Reality Bites endure. The film takes place inside a record store in Delaware and chronicles a single day in the life of its various employees and customers. The community at this store is much like a family, and there’s a sweetness about the film that’s pretty irresistible. The soundtrack is killer as well. So if you’re in the mood for a comedy that is also very much a 90s movie, you can’t go wrong with Empire Records. – Adam Chitwood

Hot Fuzz

Director: Edgar Wright

Writers: Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright

Cast: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Jim Broadbent, Timothy Dalton, Paddy Considine, Olivia Colman, Rafe Spall

Filmmaker Edgar Wright certainly turned heads with his work on the beloved UK series Spaced and then broke out in a big way with the “zomromcom” Shaun of the Dead, but how to follow up that success? With a whip-smart twist on the action genre, of course. With Hot Fuzz, Wright captures the world of everyday police work with the same urgency and explosiveness as Michael Bay shoots his big chase sequences, resulting in a hilarious action film all its own that never delves into parody. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are excellent as the two lead policemen, but the entire ensemble truly shines as the film moves towards a delightful turn at the top of the third act. Kick back, relax, and enjoy the fun. – Adam Chitwood

Prodigy

Image via High Noon California

Directors: Alex HaugheyBrian Vidal

Writers: Alex HaugheyBrian Vidal

Cast: Richard NeilSavannah LilesJolene Andersen, Emilio Palame

Prodigy is an interesting entry on this list because it’s “the little indie that could.” I had a chance to check it out earlier this year, and now, you get to do the same thanks to Netflix’s pick-up. If you’re interested in exploring a subversive take on the current contemporary superhero trend, or are a fan of stories like X-MenFirestarter, or Stranger Things, you’ll want to add this one to the queue.

The premise of the feature directorial debut from co-writers/co-directors Haughey and Vidal is a familiar one: An unnaturally powerful young girl is held captive by government officials as scientists treat her as a research subject to discover the secret to her abilities. But they’ve yet to crack the highly intelligent, dangerous, and abrasively antagonistic child, so they bring in a psychologist who specializes in treating children. The way everything ultimately plays out may seem predetermined, but Prodigy will keep you guessing. And despite it’s indie appearance, its strong focus on character is a major part of its appeal. - Dave Trumbore

Lincoln

Director: Steven Spielberg

Writer: Tony Kushner

Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field, David Strathairn, James Spader, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Hal Holbrook

There are those that will tell you Lincoln is “minor Spielberg,” but those people are wrong. This 2012 drama had long been a passion project of Steven Spielberg’s, and as realized is a thoughtful, insightful, and surprisingly funny chronicle of one of the greatest American presidents. The film doesn’t take the “cradle to grave” route but instead focuses on Lincoln’s efforts to pass the 13th Amendment. In doing so, Spielberg creates one of the best films about political process ever made, while also digging deep into the contradictions in Lincoln himself. As portrayed by Daniel Day-Lewis, it’s a complex, fascinating portrayal of a man trying to do best by himself and his country, but who doesn’t always have the right answers. The film is far deeper than a simple “that was nice” story, and is West Wing-esque in its compelling chronicle of the political process. In short, it’s masterful, and it’s absolutely top tier Spielberg. – Adam Chitwood

A Futile and Stupid Gesture

Directed by: David Wain

Written by: John Aboud and Michael Colton

Cast: Will Forte, Domhnall Gleeson, Martin Mull, Emmy Rossum, Joel McHale, Thomas Lennon, Matt Walsh, Neil Casey, Matt Lucas, Natasha Lyonne, Ed Helms, Max Greenfield, Paul Scheer, and Jon Daly

If you’re a comedy nerd, A Futile and Stupid Gesture is a must-watch. The Netflix original film chronicles the origins of National Lampoon magazine through the eyes of co-founder Doug Kenney (Will Forte), a hilarious free spirit who would go on to co-write Animal House and Caddyshack before meeting an untimely end. Forte is the driving force of the film as it tracks the irreverent beginnings of National Lampoon, and the actor delivers a dynamic turn that is equal parts funny and sad. But Domhnall Gleeson nearly steals the show as his more dry partner Henry Beard, with cameos galore of folks playing famous actors from the time like Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, John Belushi, and Gilda Radner. Wet Hot American Summer and Role Models filmmaker David Wain directs with a knowing eye, but takes the drama inherent in Kenney’s tragedy seriously. – Adam Chitwood

The Bourne Ultimatum

Image via Universal Pictures

Directed by: Paul Greengrass

Written by: Tony Gilroy, Scott Z. Burns, and George Nolfi

The Bourne trilogy is one of the best action franchises ever made, and it came to a thrilling conclusion with the third—and best—Bourne movie The Bourne Ultimatum. Filmmaker Paul Greengrass returned to direct after making his Bourne debut on The Bourne Supremacy, and this time around Bourne uncovers secrets about how he came to be involved with Operation Treadstone in the first place. It’s a pulse-pounding thriller with jaw-dropping action, and Matt Damon is superb in the lead role. The combination of Damon’s restrained performance and Greengrass’ frenetic camerawork is a match made in heaven, and while Jason Bourne was an extremely disappointing follow-up, Ultimatum wraps this story up in an extremely satisfying manner.

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

Director/Writer: Noah Baumbach

Cast: Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, Dustin Hoffman, Elizabeth Marvel, and Emma Thompson

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) isn’t Noah Baumbach’s first story about a dysfunctional family, but it’s his best one yet. The story follows the Meyerowitz family, specifically sons Danny (Adam Sandler) and Matthew (Ben Stiller) and their strained relationship with their egotistical father Harold (Dustin Hoffman), a retired art professor whose work as a sculptor never brought him the acclaim or recognition he felt he deserved.

The film is at turns deeply funny and incredibly heartbreaking as we see how Harold has emotionally damaged his sons in different ways. With Danny, he’s always harping on how great Matthew is while never acknowledging how much Danny does as a son and as a father, and with Matthew, he’s always distracted or demanding credit for making more of a commitment than he did with Danny. It’s insightful, smart, and features outstanding performances from the entire cast, especially Sandler and Stiller, who turn in some of their best work while never leaving behind their comic gifts. Credit is also due to Hoffman who, at 80 years old, is still delivering magnificent performances that make you laugh and seethe in equal measure. – Matt Goldberg

13th

Director: Ava DuVernay

Writers: Spencer Averick and Ava DuVernay

Ava DuVernay follows up her acclaimed film Selma with a searing documentary that looks at the mass incarceration of minorities following the passage of the 13th amendment. As the documentary points out, it’s not just ingrained cultural racism that results in the widespread incarceration of African-Americans and other minorities.  There’s a financial incentive as well, and it’s good business to lock people up.  13th systematically goes through the decades following the passage of the 13th amendment to show how black people were targeted by the media, by the government, and by businesses to create a new form of slavery.  It is a movie that will infuriate you, depress you, and hopefully spur you to action against a system that done egregious harm to our fellow citizens.  – Matt Goldberg

Mudbound

Directed by: Dee Rees

Written by: Virgil Williams and Dee Rees

Starring: Carey Mulligan, Mary J. Blige, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Mitchell, Rob Morgan, Jason Clarke, and Jonathan Banks

One of the best films of 2017, Dee Rees’ southern epic is a sprawling, rapturous piece that looks at the lives of two families, one black and one white, in the 1940s. Although a lesser film would have only looked at one of these families or only one perspective, Mudbound brilliantly examines the hardscrabble life of a white family who owns the land, the black family who must work the land, and the conflicts and kinships that arise from its various members. Aside from the masterful craftsmanship and outstanding performances, Mudbound is a brilliant meditation on race and power that transcends its time and place. While the rural Mississippi setting gives the film its flavor, the inequality and power dynamic feels painfully relevant without ever coming off as preachy or obvious. It’s an absolutely masterpiece, and while it may not be a Netflix film that’s perfect for relaxing, it’s one you’ll be grateful you experienced. – Matt Goldberg

Y Tu Mamá También

Director: Alfonso Cuarón

Writers: Alfonso Cuarón and Carlos Cuarón

Cast: Maribel Verdú, Gael García Bernal, and Diego Luna

Before he made Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban or Children of Men or Gravity, filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón directed the erotic masterpiece Y Tu Mamá También. The Spanish-language coming-of-age drama follows two teenage best friends who go on a road trip with a woman in her late twenties, only to discover much more about each other and themselves. It seems like a trite premise, but the film is lovingly crafted and gorgeously shot by Oscar-winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. Cuarón captures teenage ennui brilliantly, and while this is a “coming-of-age” story, the focus isn’t entirely on the young boys—Maribel Verdú’s chararacter is fully realized as Cuarón explores the anxieties and fears of adulthood, all set against the backdrop of a sunny, sex-filled roadtrip. This is undoubtedly one of the best films of the 21st century so far. – Adam Chitwood

Justin Timberlake + the Tennessee Kids

Director: Jonathan Demme

One might think a concert documentary on Netflix couldn’t be that exciting, and one would be wrong. Justin Timberlake + the Tennessee Kids is an absolute blast from start to finish, as filmmaker Jonathan Demme captures the final two performances of Justin Timberlake‘s 20/20 Experience tour. It’s abundantly clear that Timberlake is a consummate entertainer—Demme’s camera marvels at the performer’s showmanship, and the effect is downright alluring. He also takes time to really showcase the musicians and dancers performing alongside Timberlake, which brings an air of family to the proceedings. Really it’s just an all-around great time. Throw it on during a party or small get-together, or just sit down watch Timberlake do his thing. – Adam Chitwood

The Place Beyond the Pines

Director: Derek Cianfrance

Writers: Derek Cianfrance, Ben Coccio, and Darius Marder

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Ben Mendelsohn, Ray Liotta, Emory Cohen, and Dane Dehaan

For his follow-up film, Blue Valentine filmmaker Derek Cianfrance went with a highly ambitious crime saga told in three parts. The Place Beyond the Pines has a triptych structure, beginning with a chapter in which Ryan Gosling plays a bank robber with a baby son, continuing with a chapter following a cop played by Bradley Cooper, and concluding with a chapter revolving around the sons of these two men. The result is something epic, thrilling, and highly emotional, with a narrative unlike any you’ve seen before. – Adam Chitwood

Shrek

Image via DreamWorks Animation

Directed by: Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson

Written by: Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Joe Stillman, and Roger S.H. Schulman

Cast: Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, John Lithgow

It’s easy to forget just how big of a deal Shrek was when it hit theaters in 2001, but it was a very big deal. DreamWorks Animation challenged Pixar in the realm of CG animation with a more edgy, slightly more adult-oriented animated film—one in which parents would be laughing at jokes that went over their childrens’ heads. But at its core, Shrek works beautifully as a story of an outsider looking for acceptance, and of love coming from unexpected places. It’s also just a really pretty and fun fairy tale in its own right, and while technology has advanced considerably in the two decades since its release, Shrek still holds up all these years later. – Adam Chitwood

Schindler's List

Image via Universal Pictures

Director: Steven Spielberg

Writer: Steven Zaillian

Cast: Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Jopseh Fiennes, Caroline Goodall, Jonathan Sagall, Embeth Davidz

When Steven Spielberg made Schindler’s List, there was skepticism aplenty. This was still the filmmaker behind Jaws, E.T., and Raiders of the Lost Ark, and his last couple stabs at drama—Always and The Color Purple—received mixed responses. But Schindler’s List marked a turning point in Spielberg’s career, as the filmmaker’s chronicle of the Holocaust—specifically the efforts of a war profiteer named Oskar Schindler to save Jews from the gas chambers—turned out to be a stunningly realized, haunting, and unforgettable piece of cinema. Presented in black and white and trading in static camera moves for a handheld approach that makes the horror all the more real, Schindler’s List is a testament to those that lost their lives in one of the most horrendous acts humanity has ever inflicted, and there’s a reason it won numerous Oscars including Best Picture and Director. – Adam Chitwood

Magic Mike

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Writer: Reid Carolin

Cast: Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Cody Horn, Matt Bomer, Olivia Munn, Joe Manganiello, and Matthew McConaughey

While the prospect of a male stripper movie based on the real life story of Channing Tatum sounds like a recipe for disaster, in the hands of a master filmmaker like Steven Soderbergh, it’s a work of art. Magic Mike is immensely entertaining offering up some truly dazzling set pieces, but it’s also incredibly funny and genuinely poignant. While Soderbergh certainly has an eye on giving folks a good time, at heart Magic Mike is a film about chasing the American Dream. It’s surprisingly dark in places, and Tatum is actually pretty terrific in the lead role here, offering up some of the complexity that has made him a truly talented actor. And, of course, there’s Matthew McConaughey in the first puzzle piece of his McConaissance, giving an Oscar-worthy turn as the charismatic Dallas, owner of the film’s central male strip club. Don’t let the subject matter fool you: Magic Mike is a true film for cinephiles. – Adam Chitwood

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Written and Directed by: James Gunn

Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Kurt Russell, Dave Bautista, Michael Rooker, Elizabeth Debicki, Pom Klementieff, Bradley Cooper, and Vin Diesel

While Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 may not have the element of surprise that benefitted James Gunn’s first Marvel film, the success of that movie certainly afforded Gunn the right to essentially make a hangout movie for the sequel. Not a lot happens in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and that’s OK. Gunn digs deep into the characters, spending more time diving into their psyches, hangups, and interpersonal dynamics than chasing down a faceless villain. There’s a twist involving Kurt Russell’s character that ratchets things up a bit, but at heart, this is just a great film to put on and chill out with. – Adam Chitwood

Mulan

Directed by: Barry Cook and Tony Bancroft

Written by: Rita Hsiao, Philip LaZebnik, Chris Sanders, Eugenia Bostwick-Singer, and Raymond Singer

Cast: Ming-Na Wen, Eddie Murphy, DB Wong, Miguel Ferrer, Harvey Fierstein

Inarguably the most feminist film of Disney’s Second Golden Age, 1998’s Mulan is also one that holds up considerably well. The story of a woman posing as a man in order to fight in her father’s place is compelling from the get-go, but directors Barry Cook and Tony Bancroft also absolutely nail the dynamic Ancient China aesthetic, bringing a rush of red and chilling landscapes to the big screen in fascinating fashion. Mulan is a story about honor and family, but also about learning to see beyond one’s limited perspective. All the men in China have been told that women are not fit to fight or stand in a man’s place, but Mulan as Ping shows that when a man doesn’t know it’s a woman he’s fighting alongside, it makes no difference. So while Mulan certainly deals with ancient traditions, it’s also a highly relatable and relevant film in terms of theme and character. – Adam Chitwood

Long Shot

Director: Jacob LaMendola

The less you know about Jacob LaMendola’s 40-minute documentary Long Shot the better because its twists and turns are absolutely shocking even if its larger point should be burned into viewers memories by now. Overall, the documentary focuses on Juan Catalan, who was accused of a murder he didn’t commit and the lengths he had to go to in order to prove his innocence. While our justice system likes to tout that the accused are “innocent until proven guilty,” Long Shot shows in its brief runtime that the truth is just the opposite. Despite the flimsy evidence against Catalan, he had to be extraordinarily lucky to prove his innocence and that we have a system that incentivizes detectives and prosecutors simply to close cases rather than find justice. The brilliant thing about Long Shot is that it never has to come right out and say it. The case speaks volumes on its own. – Matt Goldberg

Clouds of Sils Maria

Writer/Director: Olivier Assayas

Cast: Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, Chloe Grace Moretz, Lars Eidinger, Johnny Flynn, Brady Corbet

Olivier Assayas (Carlos, Irma Vep) might be slyly gleeful if you call his Clouds of Sils Maria “pretentious.” Like a cloud, Maria lays a thick haze over what we talk about when we talk about movies vs. film. This film stars Juliette Binoche as a respected actress who, now in her 40s, is receiving less juicy roles and has been asked to play the older part in the very adaptation that made her famous (an 18 year-old intern seduces her 40-something female boss; Binoche’s Maria Enders came to fame playing the intern, she’s about to embark on the older character). Her assistant, played by Kristen Stewart, runs lines with her and they argue about whether or not the older woman is layered and redeemable or pitiful and pathetic.

The dialogue from the play is haughty, stiff and dead on arrival. Off the clock, the dialogue in which these two characters relate to each other as women—and mentor to mentee—is invigorating, instinctive, energetic. It’s an absolute joy to watch Binoche and Stewart act against each other, free of the play and what we consider high art. It’s natural. Whenever they’re sucked into creative work and discussions of what each other values from creative enterprises (Stewart’s assistant sees the melodramatic parallels in Hollywood superhero films), that their natural state of personhood gives way to tension. This very film vs. movie discussion creates a tension that erases the fun of movies by putting friction between the two, between art and perceived lesser art. Assayas’ Maria, perhaps pretentiously, says all movies have artistic value. Great! That this statement comes from the innate chemistry between Binoche and Stewart, lifts Clouds into some beautiful terrain. — Brian Formo

The Homesman

Director: Tommy Lee Jones

Writers: Tommy Lee Jones, Kieran Fitzgerald, and Wesley A. Oliver

Cast: Hilary Swank, Tommy Lee Jones, Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto, Sonja Richter, William Fichtner, John Lithgow, Tim Blake Nelson, James Spader, Hailee Steinfeld, and Meryl Streep

If you like Westerns, The Homesman is a must-see. This underrated gem from 2014 flew under the radar and got lost a bit in the awards shuffle during its fall release, but it really is an essential entry in the genre. Swank plays a pious, independent-minded woman who volunteers to transport three women who have been driven mad by pioneer life across the country. She’s accompanied in her journey by a low-life drifter, played by Jones, whom she enlists to assist. Somewhat reductively dubbed a “feminist Western”, the film does indeed have a female-centric bent, but it’s really just a subversive Western on the whole, chronicling the hardships of pioneer life with a hardened, striking point of view. The cast is phenomenal, the story is surprising, and the cinematography and score (by Rodrigo Prieto and Marco Beltrami, respectively) are on point. If you missed The Homesman once, don’t miss it again. – Adam Chitwood

It Follows

Director/Writer: David Robert Mitchell

Cast: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Daniel Zovatto, Jake Weary, Olivia Luccardi, and Lili Sepe

It Follows is not only one of the best horror movies of the last few years, it’s also one of the most handsomely crafted indies in recent memory. Filmmaker David Robert Mitchell conjures the story of an unseen force that “follows”, unflinchingly, until it catches up with its target. It can only be passed on through sex, one person giving it to another, and after a fateful one night stand Maika Monroe’s character Jay finds herself in its path. Mike Gioulakis’ cinematography favors elegantly composed wide angles to unsettling effect, and Disasterpiece turns out an 80s-infused score that evokes nostalgia for that horror-filled decade while standing on its own as a uniquely creepy piece of movie music. Terrifying, gorgeous, and striking, It Follows is damn fine entertainment for any occasion. – Adam Chitwood

Spotlight

Director: Tom McCarthy

Writers: Josh Singer & Tom McCarthy

Cast: Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Brian d’Arcy James, Liev Schreiber, Stanley Tucci, Billy Crudup, and John Slattery

Winner of the Best Picture Oscar for 2015, Spotlight is a tremendous achievement and a magnificent example of the tightrope walk many filmmakers must do when tackling touchy or controversial subject matter. In chronicling the Boston Globe’s investigation into systemic sexual abuse in the Catholic church, Spotlight never relishes in putting down the church itself, nor does it shy away from the horrible crimes perpetrated (and facilitated) by those in power. It’s an incredibly engaging and compelling story of good people trying to do a good thing, and all the challenges that come with standing up to a massive superpower. Moreover, the ensemble in this thing is one of the best in recent memory. Whether you’re a Best Picture completionist or not, Spotlight is well worth your time. – Adam Chitwood

Newtown

Director: Kim A. Snyder

The documentary Newtown is not an easy film to watch, nor should it be, but it is absolutely essential. The film is a tactful, powerful look at how the community of Newtown, Connecticut came together in the aftermath of the largest mass shooting of schoolchildren in American history. It is a deeply personal film, focusing on the parents, brothers, and sisters who were affected by this act of terrorism, and how it has impacted not just them but the community as a whole. The film forces the viewer to confront the consequences of gun violence in an unflinching, almost overwhelmingly emotional manner. It is not preachy and it has no agenda other than showing human truth. If I had my personal druthers, this film would be required viewing for every single American citizen. – Adam Chitwood

Burn After Reading

Directors/Writers: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen

Cast: George Clooney, Frances McDormand, Richard Jenkins, Brad Pitt, John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton, and J.K. Simmons

How did the Coen Brothers cash in on their clout from winning Best Director and Best Picture with No Country for Old Men? With an absurdist comedy that adds up to a punchline, of course. Burn After Reading is a hilarious romp of sorts played very, very straight, as the Coens pack this espionage story to the brim with idiots, but shoot, edit, and score it as if it’s a Michael Clayton-esque thriller. It’s a brilliant subversion of expectations, and while some certainly felt slighted by the ending, the way the story abruptly deflates is precisely the point. This is a movie that gets better and better with each watch, and though it may feel slight in the shadow of something as rich and complex as No Country, the range it displays from the Coen Brothers only solidifies them as two of America’s greatest directors of all time. – Adam Chitwood

Boyhood

Director/Writer: Richard Linklater

Cast: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, and Lorelai Linklater

Boyhood is a masterpiece, not just because it’s a groundbreaking piece of cinema, but because it so fully and completely captures the experience of growing up. It’s a film entirely made out of scenes that would be cut out of most family dramas. But it’s those little pieces—the conversations about nothing, the screwing around with friends—that we remember the most. Shot over 12 years with the same cast, we watch as Mason grows into the kind of man he’s going to be. It happens in fits and spurts, and not every phase sticks as Mason tries out different personalities, but it’s a wonder to behold. We also see how aging affects parents, as Arquette turns in a phenomenal Oscar-winning performance as Mason’s single mom. This is a long one, so buckle in, but it’s a film that demands to be seen. – Adam Chitwood

Blue Is the Warmest Color

Director: Abdellatif Kechiche

Writers: Abdellatif Kechiche and Ghalia Lacroix

Cast: Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos

While Blue Is the Warmest Color got plenty of press for its explicit sex scenes and the subsequent rift between its stars and director, the film remains an epically intimate portrait of love that is among the most engrossing and effective romances of all time. The movie tracks the life of a young woman named Adele (Adèle Exarchopoulos), who falls in love with another girl (Léa Seydoux) while in high school and develops a complex and deeply emotional relationship. This is a deeply felt love drama that, while long, feels wholly complete and personal. Exarchopoulos turns in a brilliant lead performance that deserved much more recognition upon release, and the cinematography is hauntingly beautiful. If you’re in the mood for a love story that feels real, human, and epic, go for Blue Is the Warmest Color – Adam Chitwood

Cartel Land

Director: Matthew Heineman

While you should already want to watch Cartel Land simply because it’s nominated for a Best Documentary Feature Oscar this year, the movie is incredibly compelling regardless. The film chronicles the battle against Mexican drug cartels by two vigilante groups on opposite sides of the border: the Arizona Border Recon in the U.S., and a rebel uprising group in the Mexican state of Michoacán. What begins as a seemingly simple story of two groups ultimately fighting for the same thing slowly turns into a deeply unsettling look at the corruption that permeates throughout Mexico, and how the process of rebellion breeds its own kind of corruption and power struggles. The film features some of the most harrowing and intense scenes I’ve ever seen on film, with the electricity and plot twists of a fictional drug war thriller made all the more disturbing for the fact that this is real life. Fascinating, searing, dark, and deeply unsettling, Cartel Land is essential viewing. – Adam Chitwood

Beasts of No Nation

Director/Writer: Cary Joji Fukunaga

Cast: Abraham Attah, Idris Elba, Kurt Egyiawan, Jude Akuwudike, Emmanuel “King Kong” Nii, and Adom Quaye

Netflix’s first major foray into original film territory was an ambitious awards play, as the streaming service acquired writer/director Cary Joji Fukunaga’s passion project Beasts of No Nation after the film had been completed. The drama chronicles the journey of a young boy in an unnamed West African country who becomes a child soldier, and while the subject matter should tell you that this isn’t necessarily a “cheery” watch, it’s a tremendous and incredibly powerful piece of filmmaking. Young Abraham Attah is phenomenal as the young Agu, while Idris Elba delivers a terrifying performance as the charismatic leader Commandant. Fukunaga serves as his own cinematographer to hauntingly beautiful results, and the film culminates in a tough and thought-provoking conclusion. It’s one of the best films of 2015 that went criminally underseen, but it’s a terrific film that deserves to be experienced. – Adam Chitwood

The Overnight

Director/Writer: Patrick Brice

Cast: Adam Scott, Taylor Schilling, Jason Schwartzman, and Judith Godrèche

If you’re in the mood for a raunchy comedy that really goes there, then The Overnight might be right up your alley. The film stars Adam Scott and Orange Is the New Black star Taylor Schilling as a somewhat conservative couple who, while at the park with their son, meet a nice and somewhat mysterious parent named Kurt (Jason Schwartzman), who invites them and their son over to his family’s house for a playdate. All is going somewhat normal until the kids are put to bed, at which point Kurt and his wife Charlotte (Judith Godrèche) pull Scott and Schilling’s characters out of their shells, taking them to sexually adventurous places with plenty of humor to boot. For anyone who’s been itching to see Scott and Schwartzman don some hilariously exaggerated prosthetic genitals, The Overnight is for you. – Adam Chitwood

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil

Director: Eli Craig

Writer: Eli Craig and Morgan Jurgenson

A comedic spin on the “party-going youths meet backwoods sociopaths” subgenre of horror, a la Texas Chainsaw MassacreTucker and Dale vs. Evil is a straight up comedy of errors in horror movie clothing. The film follows the titular Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine), two country bumpkins best friends renovating their dilapidated remote vacation home where they encounter a group of preppy, wildly biased college kids. When Dale’s attempt at friendly conversation is perceived as a threat, it sets off a series of ever-escalating confrontations that are only as hilarious as they are deadly. As far as I’m concerned, every Alan Tudyk performance is a gift, but it’s Tyler Labine’s soft-hearted Dale who steals the show as he tries to comprehend the fresh hell he somehow wandered into. Thanks to their on-point performances and some gore gags that are equal parts gruesome and guffaw-inducing, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is one of the most delightful horror comedies in recent memory.  – Haleigh Foutch

Looney Tunes: Back in Action

Image via Warner Bros.

Director: Joe Dante

Writer: Larry Doyle

Cast: Brendan Fraser, Jenna Elfman, and Steve Martin

What should have been the revitalization of the Looney Tunes brand instead became a nail in its coffin with Looney Tunes: Back in Action, which is a shame. While some people continue to revere Space Jam, Joe Dante’s 2003 comedy gets much closer to the core of Tex Avery and Chuck Jones’ original vision for their wacky characters. Brendan Fraser is perfectly cast as a stuntman who, with the help of Looney Tunes characters, must stop the evil chairman (Steve Martin) of the Acme Corporation from turning mankind into monkeys. It’s bizarre, madcap, and perfectly Looney Tunes. If you love Bugs, Daffy, and the gang, you owe it to yourself to check out this underrated movie. – Matt Goldberg

Need More Recommendations?

Be sure to keep checking back as we’ll be continuing to update our recommendations for the must-see titles currently playing on Netflix. Happy viewing!

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