Laura Dern (left) and Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story.
If you’re struggling to choose what movie to watch on Netflix, hopefully this list will save you some time.
Occasionally Netflix entices big directors to serve up originals that make it all the way to the Oscars. But it’s also got an abundance of smaller stories perfect for a modestly-sized screen.
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Fingers crossed you’ll find something here that hits the spot.
Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver in Marriage Story.
A movie about divorce might not sound like the best viewing experience, but Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story is a journey you’ll want to take. Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver give some of the best performances of their careers as Nicole and Charlie, a couple who embark on the emotionally and logistically complicated legal processes involved in plying a partnership apart. Painted with an emotional complexity encompassing poignantly funny moments along with the painful, this is happy-sad at its best.
Ahn Seo-hyun in Okja.
2017’s Okja comes from Parasite director Bong Joon-ho — which should be incentive enough to watch it. Part-cheeky dark comedy, part-surreal environmental thriller, Okja follows a young South-Korean farmer girl whose pet pal is a genetically enhanced super-pig. But Okja is the target of a big corporation that wants her delicious flesh. Featuring an English supporting cast with the likes of Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal, Okja sucks you in with its sweetness before showing you a distressing close-up of the meat industry.
I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore
Elijah Wood and Melanie Lynskey in I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore.
If you’ve had a bad day, this might be the movie for you. When the police refuse to help with a robbery, nursing assistant Ruth and her weird neighbor Tony take things into their own hands. I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore spots the idiosyncrasies of everyday life, before escalating its story into dark places with even darker humor. With a touch of Coen Brothers flair, its perfectly-packed 96 minutes will leave you surprisingly emotional.
Adam Sandler in Uncut Gems.
Adam Sandler’s Oscar buzz-worthy performance didn’t quite see him nominated, but his turn in Uncut Gems is remarkable for Sandler appreciators and otherwise. Uncut Gems itself is a blistering odyssey of a story following a diamond jeweler who’s addicted to gambling. Scraping in Martin Scorsese ’70s crime grit, the Safdie Brothers take you on a frenetic, anxiety-riddled dash through New York as Sandler’s Howard Ratner must retrieve a precious opal to pay off his debts.
2019 Spanish film The Platform.
From Netflix’s impressive stash of international films comes Spanish sci-fi horror The Platform. Its high-concept story centers on a tower, which delivers food to people on each of its many levels via a platform. Those at the top get the best and most abundant spread, which is devored as the platform lowers down the levels. Social commentary rings throughout this dystopian thriller, taking shocking, occasionally gruesome turns all the way to the bottom.
Beasts of No Nation
2015’s Beasts of No Nation.
Director Cary Joji Fukunaga gives you a sobering look at the life of a boy who becomes a child soldier in a West African country embroiled in civil war. Idris Elba stars as the ruthless Commandant along with the astonishing Abraham Attah as the young Agu. A confronting yet quietly hopeful snapshot of war from a human perspective, Beasts of No Nation needs to be on your radar if it isn’t already.
Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro in The Irishman.
Spanning the lives of its mobsters over multiple decades, The Irishman pulls off a 3-and-a-half-hour long-form crime saga. But of course, you can break up this tour de force if you need to. Always clever and entertaining, with Martin Scorsese favorites Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci commanding the screen, The Irishman creeps up on you with a haunting look at ageing mobsters and the havoc they wreak.
Natalie Portman in Annihilation.
Alex Garland began crafting his own particular brand of trippy, existential sci-fi with Ex Machina and continues that train with Annihilation. Based on Jeff VanderMeer’s novel, Annihilation follows Natalie Portman’s biology professor Lena as she wades through the grief of losing her husband by taking on a job at a mysterious army facility on the outskirts of a meteor landing site. With a cast of female scientists exploring the dangerous zone, Annihilation is a heady plunge into darkness on multiple levels. A movie to ponder long after the credits.
Always Be My Maybe
Ali Wong and Randall Park in Always Be My Maybe.
A rom-com with a Keanu Reeves cameo and a deep love of food, Always Be My Maybe might just hit every element you could wish for. Following the reconnection between chef Sasha and musician Marcus after their brief fling as teenagers, Always Be My Maybe wraps you up in warm comedy that doesn’t always go to expected places.
Alfonso Cuaron’s semi-autobiographical snapshot of the Colonia Roma neighborhood of Mexico City tells a small story with staggering prowess. Let Cuaron steer you through the ups and downs of a live-in housekeeper of a middle-class family. His lens captures intricately beautiful scenes in an album that quietly envelopes you with wonder and grace.
The Meyerowitz Stories
Ben Stiller and Adam Sandler in The Meyerowitz Stories.
The Meyerowtiz Stories is a bittersweet comedy-drama told through Noah Baumbach’s grounded lens. The titular stories concern dysfunctional adult siblings, played by Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller, trying to live in the shadow of their father. With an effervescent cast, including Dustin Hoffman, watch these intelligent, albeit miserable, characters weave their poignant tales.
Mudbound gives you a historical look at class struggle through the lens of a black veteran and a white veteran who both still have one foot stuck in World War II. Dealing with PTSD and racism in the Mississippi Delta, with a cast that includes Garrett Hedlund and Jason Mitchell, Mudbound’s tempest will rivet you to the spot.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
2018’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.
Welcome to the YA book adaptation that rocketed Noah Centineo to heartthrob status. Playing off a charming concept, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before sees Lara Jean Covey (Lana Condor), a half-Korean, half-white girl growing up in Virginia, write letters to all the boys she has crushes on. Then her fun little sister sends them off without her knowing. While it hits all the comforting rom-com beats, there’s a layer of rare representation that gives this an edge over your average teen flick.
Danielle Macdonald and Jennifer Aniston in Dumplin’.
Willowdean “Dumplin'” Dickson is the daughter of a former beauty queen, but you wouldn’t know it given they’re nothing alike. Deciding to join a pageant out of spite, Dumplin’ learns a thing or two about self-confidence as well as dealing with her rocky relationship with her mother, played by an always-watchable Jennifer Aniston. Casting a warm, albeit familiar glow, Dumplin’ makes the most of its reliable formula.
The Two Popes
Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins in The Two Popes.
Set primarily in the Vatican City, this biographical drama follows Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio in the aftermath of the Vatican leaks scandal. It’s as fascinating as it sounds. The Two Popes carves up a slice of real-life drama with a first-class two-hander featuring Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Tim Blake Nelson in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.
The Coen Brothers kick up the western dust with an anthology film that gives you six vignettes all set on the American frontier. One of them is about the titular Buster Scruggs, a chipper singing cowboy who casually sets off a shoot-up in a cantina. But there’s a dark twist that keeps you on your toes. Sewing the rest of its stories together with a constant black humor, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a Coen Brothers winner.
Dolemite Is My Name
2019’s Dolemite Is My Name.
Eddie Murphy returned from his acting break with a glorious performance as Rudy Ray Moore, a comedian who portrayed a character called Dolemite in stand-up routines and blaxploitation films from the ’70s. Dolemite Is My Name starts from the beginning, tackling Moore’s time as a struggling artist working in a record store. Following Moore’s rise to fame that takes bizarre and enthralling turns, Dolemite Is My Name does justice to Moore’s and Murphy’s talents.
You guessed it — this one’s about Christmas! But Klaus isn’t a conventional Santa tale. It spins an alternative origin story for the big guy with inspiration from history’s Saint Nicholas of Myra. In a fictional 19th-century island town to the Far North, we follow a postman who befriends a reclusive toymaker named Klaus. Along with its beautifully hand-drawn animation, Klaus is a unique, slightly more complex take on holiday generosity.
I Lost My Body
2019’s I Lost My Body.
This award-winning French film begins with a severed hand escaping a refrigerator in a laboratory and embarking on a Paris-wide search for the rest of its body. What an opening! With a few flashbacks and elegant animation, this strange, satisfying story delves into loss, both physical and emotional, in the most poetic of ways.
Da 5 Bloods
2020’s Da 5 Bloods.
Spike Lee’s fierce war drama follows a group of ageing Vietnam War veterans who return to the country in search of the remains of their squad leader — as well as buried treasure. With a frenzied energy coursing through it, Da 5 Bloods gives you a look at the Vietnam War through black experiences, delivering an all too timely critique of racism and warfare.
Mark Duplass and Ray Romano in Paddleton.
Tennis-playing buddies Michael (Mark Duplass) and Andy (Ray Romano) receive devastating news: Michael has terminal stomach cancer. Struggling to let go of his dying friend, Andy joins Michael’s road trip in search of medication to end things before they get too painful. Folding comedy into melancholy, Paddleton eases the touching friendship at its core into deftly-affecting places.
Knock Down the House
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in Knock Down the House.
Even if you’re not into politics, this behind-the-scenes look at what it took for a young woman to represent her community and make a difference is overwhelmingly inspiring. Knock Down the House follows Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and three other female candidates as they run for Congress in 2018. The obstacles that buffet her campaign and how she deals with them are all captured fly-on-the-wall-style, with fist-pumping results.
2020’s Athlete A.
Athlete A gives you a deep-dive into one of the largest scandals in sporting history. It follows the investigative journalists from The Indianapolis Star who broke the story of doctor Larry Nassar’s abuse of young female gymnasts in the US. The culture of horrific assaults persisted for decades, but there’s also light at the end of the tunnel, after brave athletes spoke out.
Ava DuVernay’s documentary into the US justice system meticulously covers America’s racial history from the abolition of slavery to the present prison structure. If you’re in search of educational material, this expansive look at the horrors of mass criminalization of Black people gives you a powerful synthesis of everything you need to know.
I Am Mother
Hilary Swank in I Am Mother.
I Am Mother might cover familiar sci-fi territory, but if you’re after some James Cameron and Ridley Scott-channeling thrills, you’re in the right place. We follow a young girl named Daughter, who lives in a post-apocalyptic bunker with her robot, named Mother, whose purpose is to aid the repopulation of Earth. This intriguing premise and setting is ripe for suspense and dark twists, which I Am Mother delivers in style.
The Half of It
Leah Lewis (left) and Alexxis Lemire in The Half of It.
This original YA movie tells the story of Ellie Chu, a shy Asian-American in the remote town of Squahamish discovering her sexuality. A straight-A yet friendless student who has a side-hustle writing papers for her classmates, Ellie helps footballer Paul Munsky write a love letter to Aster Flores. But it turns out Aster’s perfect for Ellie instead. A story of self-acceptance told with a delicate touch, The Half of It is a total joy.
Set It Up
Glen Powell and Zoey Deutch in Set It Up.
Set It Up is a rom-com leveled up by the sparkling Zoey Deutch and Glen Powell, as well as an ever-brilliant Lucy Liu and Taye Diggs. Harper Moore is a twentysomething assistant to an editor of a sports media empire. Charlie is an assistant to a venture capitalist. Bonding over their shared workplace mishaps, they concoct a plan to connect their two high-strung bosses, thinking it’ll lead to lightened workloads. This romance within a romance hits the expected beats but that makes it no less entertaining to watch.
Carla Gugino in Gerald’s Game.
If you liked The Haunting of Hill House, then head to Mike Flanagan’s adaptation of Stephen King novel Gerald’s Game. Carla Gugino is immense as Jessie, who goes on holiday with her husband at an isolated lake house in Alabama. Largely sticking to a bedroom setting, we see the couple’s troubles go from bad to worse, with Jessie ending up in the impossible situation of being handcuffed to the bed with no one to help her escape. Gerald’s Game leads to narratively and emotionally satisfying conclusions, with Flanagan’s melancholy-suffused horror that surges into quiet triumph for its haunted characters.
Bryan Fogel’s influential documentary explores the dark side of sports doping. It sees Fogel plan to enter a cycling race after taking banned substances in a way that will avoid detection, all to highlight the insufficiencies in sports drug testing. But things take a turn when Russian scientist Grigory Rodchenkov exposes a state-sponsored Olympic doping program that he oversees. Icarus is as gripping as it sounds, even if you’re not a cycling aficionado.
The Incredible Jessica James
Chris O’Dowd and Jessica Williams in The Incredible Jessica James.
The Incredible Jessica James introduces a delightfully self-possessed main character played by an equally delightful Jessica Williams. The confident and independent Jessica James goes on a blind date where she ends up talking about nothing but her ex. A fresh take on the breakup movie with an empowering lead, this is an easy hit for an entertaining night in.
New movie calendar for 2020 and 2021 following coronavirus delays
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