The seemingly endless options afforded by Netflix are a blessing and a curse. Though you might find something to watch eventually, you might also just end up spending an hour scrolling through movies without settling on anything at all.
To help minimize scrolling time — and maybe bring some underseen gems to your attention — we’ve put together a rolling list of the best movies on Netflix. We’ve got everything from Oscar-winners to recent hits to peak action movies and no-holds-barred comedies, so close your eyes and throw a dart (not literally), and give whatever you land on a shot. We promise it’ll be worth the watch.
For more recommendations, read our list of The Best Movies of 2018
Black Panther (2018)
What can we say? Of all the Marvel movies added to Netflix since Disney struck a licensing deal, Ryan Coogler’s political odyssey is the one we keep revisiting (over the longest year of all time — this movie came out in February!). Since Disney Plus streaming service will eventually snatch it away, we’ll bang the drum for Chadwick Boseman’s model hero T’Challa, Michael B. Jordan’s sympathetic-yet-brutal Kilmonger, Danai Gurira’s breakout badassery as Okoye, and of course, Letitia Wright’s Shuri, who needs a screen-time promotion in Avengers 4. More big-budget afrofuturism, please.
The Castle of Cagliostro (1979)
Before Hayao Miyazaki’s string of instant, Studio Ghibli classics, the animator took a crack at bringing to life one of Japan’s most famous manga characters: Arsène Lupin III. The Castle of Cagliostro finds the gentleman thief caught up in a counterfeiting scheme and looking to enact revenge. While Miyazaki’s sense of whimsy and natural wonder is mostly absent from his debut feature, his taste for spry, fluid movement remains, bringing to life gun fights, car chases and other Bond-like action.
Chicken Run (2000)
Chicken Run, which tells the tale of a bunch of chickens trying to fly the coop, is one of the strangest works to come out of stop motion titan Aardman Studios (best known for Wallace and Gromit), and also one of the best. Staged like an old WWII prison escape movie — with the stakes to match, as the farm is converting from selling eggs to meat — the film quickly gets into much more harrowing territory than its cute character designs might suggest. Though the chickens struggle to find their wings, the film soars, and holds the record as the highest-grossing stop motion animated film of all the time as proof of its excellence.
Children of Men (2006)
Recently, Alfonso Cuarón’s vision of the future has come to feel more on the nose than ever. Children of Men posits a future in which the world has begun to collapse, with environmental crisis and infertility threatening human extinction, and governments placing oppressive laws upon immigrants and refugees. When a young refugee named Key (Clare-Hope Ashitey) is discovered to be the first pregnant woman in almost two decades, it becomes everyman Theo’s (Clive Owen) responsibility to keep her safe.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
If you’ve ever wondered whether we truly are alone in the universe, Close Encounters of the Third Kind isn’t going to bring you any closer to enlightenment, but will help you feel that you have some fellow wanderers on this plane of existence. Steven Spielberg’s sci-fi epic uses the unknown as a way of parsing through all-too-human anxieties, as Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) becomes increasingly (and detrimentally) obsessed with UFOs. Meanwhile, Jillian (Melinda Dillon) develops a similar preoccupation when her young son is abducted, and the film reaches a fever pitch as its characters wrestle with the idea of the unknown — both out in the universe and in their own lives.
Cold in July (2014)
There’s an unmistakable, macho energy to Cold in July, as the film begins with Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall) shooting and killing a would-be burglar, and subsequently being congratulated by his neighbors for defending what’s his. But the incident hangs over Dane like a cloud, and as the film progresses, it becomes clear that director Jim Mickle has more on his mind than posturing that which Dane’s fellows would have him embrace. As Dane is drawn into events beyond his control, Mickle dissects the expectations of masculinity that seem to define the movie’s small world. Sam Shepard and Don Johnson stop by to help along the way.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Written by Charlie Kaufman and directed by Michel Gondry, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is the surreal, bittersweet rumination on love that you would expect from two such minds. The story travels through past and present, through memory and imagination, as Joel (Jim Carrey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet) find themselves drawn to each other on a train leaving Montauk. As it turns out, their meeting is not by coincidence, and the film guides its audience gently through their shared past, and the circumstances that made them strangers — before bringing them back together again.
John Woo loves big swings. His shootouts twirl with the surreal pace of a modern dance. His plots flip through pages like a paperback thriller. There will always be pigeons flying in slow-motion — flocks of them. So it makes sense that he’d team with Nicolas Cage and John Travolta, two of the U.S.’ most baroque actors, for this gloriously silly cat-and-mouse story about an FBI agent hunting down a terrorist by replacing his face with that of his target’s. Go with it!
Gerald’s Game (2017)
Before tingling our spines and wringing our tear ducts with his episodic adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House, writer-director Mike Flanagan turned one of Stephen King’s supposedly unfilmable novels into a slow drip chamber piece. Hill House’s Carla Gugino gives a nearly-solo performance as Jessie, who begins a trip to a off-the-beaten-path lake house hoping to rekindle romance with her husband and ends the trip wondering if she should cut her own wrists to free her from bindings tying her to the bed. It’s not all horrifying: the agony gives way to some surprises and introspection!
The Godfather (1972)
There’s no arguing with a classic. Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of Mario Puzo’s best-selling novel is widely regarded as one of the greatest films of all time, and it’s a reputation that’s well-earned. Over the course of three hours, The Godfather brings us into the Corleone crime family, as power slowly shifts from Don Vito (Marlon Brando) to his son, Michael (Al Pacino), whose reluctance to get involved in the family business isn’t quite enough to fight what’s arguably in his blood.
The Hateful Eight (2015)
Quentin Tarantino’s most recent film is a brutal one, but so is its subject matter. The Hateful Eight, set shortly after the Civil War, is a rebuke of the way America’s past is often romanticized, using a group of strangers weathering trapped in a cabin by a snow storm as a way of tearing apart the country’s past — and its effect on contemporary America — as well as acknowledging the tenets that are constantly cited when referring to “the land of the free.” As bloody as the film is, it’s ultimately more bittersweet than bitter.
After you see Widows (DO IT), return to this classic heist film from Michael Mann (Collateral, The Last of the Mohicans), which features a sprawling, run-and-gun caper sequence and even bigger acting from Al Pacino. If you haven’t seen this movie in a decade, or haven’t been convinced to sit through the nearly three-hour runtime, Pacino, Robert De Niro, Val Kilmer and the rest of the bombastic cast are the sell. Christopher Nolan, like many, is a Mann-obsessive who lauds the action sequences as the inspiration for his larger-than-life Dark Knight work. But Heat fills the cracks between kinetic beats with Shakespearean dialogue and swirling melodrama — and that’s why it’s a classic. This movie is about Pacino and De Niro meeting in a diner. It’s about jagged lives criss-crossing at the worst possible moments. It’s about bottling up good and evil and pouring them across a shadowy Los Angeles, a place Mann knows better than any filmmaker.
The caustic satire of high school life, which finds two teenagers (Winona Ryder and Christian Slater) gunning down students and nearly blowing up a pep rally with dynamite, probably wouldn’t fly today (a shot-but-shelved TV remake being the best evidence). But in 1988, when school violence wasn’t a weekly occurrence, Daniel Waters’ black comedy was like an anti-John Hughes movie, done with enough of a wink that the exaggerated violence is all part of the joke. Ryder is a joy.
Hot Fuzz (2007)
If imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery, then Hot Fuzz is a love letter to the cop-action movie genre. Whether or not you’re versed in the works that Edgar Wright is fondly lampooning (if it helps, he explicitly name-checks a handful of them in the movie itself), the burgeoning friendship between two cops — tough guy Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg) and gormless genre enthusiast Danny Butterman (Nick Frost) — will win you over in no time. Though the sleepy countryside town Angel is re-assigned to doesn’t seem to have much to offer, it quickly becomes clear that all is not as it seems.
I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore (2017)
Actor Macon Blair, a longtime collaborator of Green Room (also great, also on Netflix) director Jeremy Saulnier, made his directorial debut with this madcap indie about two neighbors who grab their detective caps — and their ninja stars — to solve the theft of a laptop. The simple premise unfolds like a suburban hellscape version of Alice in Wonderland, escalating with bloody crimes and existentially tinged encounters, but all grounded by star Melanie Lynskey, who bubbles with rage as the world continues to disappoint.
In Bruges (2008)
Somewhere in the canon of “strange holiday films” is In Bruges, Martin McDonagh’s film about two hitmen in hiding in — you guessed it — Bruges. The fairytale-esque Belgian city is the perfect setting for a story that wrings laughs out of tragedy and existential crisis. Ray (Colin Farrell) is sent to Bruges after a hit goes wrong, with Ken (Brendan Gleeson) sent along to make sure he doesn’t get into any further trouble. Naturally, it’s an impossible task. Ray hates the town, while Ken finds it captivating, and their forced vacation grows stranger and stranger as life, death, and love form an uneasy mix.
The Iron Giant (1999)
Before Spielberg repurposed the towering hunk of sentient metal as the ultimate weapon in Ready Player One, The Iron Giant was the late-’90s answer to E.T.: an unknown from the great beyond who fell into the right youth’s hands. While the Giant’s oversized learning experiences and heroic acts are the real joys of Brad Bird’s 2D animated film, it’s Hogarth Hughes — the epitome of uncool comic-book reader, the antithesis of 1950s manliness and an ideological adversary to everything happening in the Cold War — who makes this one of the final sci-fi masterpieces of the 20th century.
Jackass Number Two (2006)
What is art? Setting your hair on fire? Drinking horse semen? Riding a Wile E. Coyote-style rocket into a lake? Putting a leech on your eyeball? Burning the outline of a penis into your ass with a cattle brand? Yes. All yes. No one else in their right mind would do what the Jackass crew do, and their work deserves the highest praise.
Kill Bill, Vol. 1 and 2 (2003, 2004)
The Kill Bill movies are, more than any of Quentin Tarantino’s other works, love letters to the movies that he loves. After surviving an assassination attempt on her wedding day, the Bride (Uma Thurman), herself a former killer, is back for revenge. Her journey mixes grindhouse style with martial arts, blaxploitation, samurai, spaghetti Western, and even anime films, resulting in a saga that apes, celebrates, and maybe even transcends the genres it’s made of.
Steven Spielberg’s Civil War-set biopic doesn’t have alien encounters or killer sharks or dashing archeologists, but by golly, it’s a masterpiece, and arguably in the director’s top-five of all time. (Let’s fight about that in the comments.) Daniel Day-Lewis stars as the 16th President, who is trying to figure out the Congressional quagmire of ending the war while freeing the slaves. Never before has political wheeling and dealing been captured with such fire, while Day-Lewis’ quiet power is exacerbated by an all-star cast of character actors. With stunning photography that echos the silver nitrate of the era and a subdued John Williams score, Lincoln is easily mistaken as minor Spielberg, despite capturing one of the most seismic moments in American history.
The Look of Silence (2014)
Joshua Oppenheimer followed his 2012 documentary The Act of Killing, which profiled the murderers behind the Indonesian mass killings of the mid-’60s, with this narrower-scoped film, about the brother of one of the genocide victims. Adi Rukun is an optometrist in Indonesia, and uses his courtesy of in-home eye exams to confront the man who killed his brother. Oppenheimer is there for the journey, up close and personal, and what he captures is an astonishing achievement in nonfiction filmmaking.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
Director Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy remains one of the most peerless cinematic works of our time. Though there’s no choosing one favorite out of the bunch, The Fellowship of the Ring, which kicks things off as hobbit Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) begins his quest to save Middle Earth, is perhaps the most evenly built. Fellowship is certainly the most light-hearted, as its characters diving into trouble rather than being caught in the middle of it.
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (2017)
From its very first moments, when a frustrated scream smash cuts to a tepid hello, it’s clear that The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) isn’t going to shy away from the sometimes jarring ups and downs of life. Weaving in and out of three generations of Meyerowitzes, Noah Baumbach’s film is kind even when its characters aren’t. The shadow that Harold (Dustin Hoffman) has cast over his children (Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, and Elizabeth Marvel) isn’t an inconsiderable one, and has, in turn, colored their relationships with each other, as well as their own kids. But blood, in the end, runs thicker than water.
Mississippi Grind (2015)
A poker movie may not immediately seem like much of a draw, but Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Half Nelson, the upcoming Captain Marvel) have crafted something remarkable. Following Gerry (Ben Mendelsohn) and Curtis (Ryan Reynolds) as they gamble their way down the Mississippi River has less to do with the hands they’re literally dealt and more with their respective approaches to life. The money isn’t the thing; rather, it’s the connection between the two men, who go from being strangers — who seem as different as can be, with Gerry a stereotypical loser and Curtis almost an embodiment of a lucky charm — to being revealed as kindred spirits.
Netflix lured Duncan Jones (Source Code) by promising to produce his Blade Runner-adjacent passion project, Mute, which turned out to be an overstuffed bag of eye candy. Much more measured is Jones’ directorial debut, this lo-fi psychological thriller about a man named Sam who spends his days harvesting helium-3 from lunar soil as the sole miner stationed on Earth’s moon. But Sam isn’t alone, and when he finally makes contact with the other humanoid on the rocky satellite, his entire world is turned upside down. The zero-g doesn’t make it any easier. Anchored by Oscar winner Sam Rockwell’s brittle performance and realized with lush practical effects, this indie sci-fi film takes the best lessons from The Twilight Zone to new heights.
Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
Rooted between his bespoke human dramas (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums) and whimsical animated films (Fantastic Mr. Fox, Isle of Dogs) is Wes Anderson’s story of two young lovers fleeing their mundane island lives, which succeeds as a living storybook. Benjamin Britten’s Noye’s Fludde, an opera written for a mixed cast of professionals and amateurs, provides music, theme, and reason for the pint-size Moonrise Kingdom: in this world, kids and parents are equals all vying against the same crushing institutions.
Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979)
Given that the life of Brian (Graham Chapman) involves him being born next door to and subsequently mistaken for the Messiah, Life of Brian was the subject of a considerable amount of controversy when it was first released. But the film isn’t blasphemous so much as it is just bloody funny, as per its famous final sequence, in which Brian, condemned to crucifixion, is told by his fellow sufferers to “always look on the bright side of life.” A parody of tales about Jesus as well as Biblical epics on the whole, the film is (like all Python works) a delight.
Over the years, Bong Joon-ho (Okja, Snowpiercer) has proven himself a master of juggling tones in order to achieve the greatest emotional effect, adding jokes to deathly serious moments and elements of horror to slapstick situations. Though that facility persists in Mother, it may just be his bleakest film. The movie follows a woman (Kim Hye-ja) as she attempts to clear her son’s (Won Bin) name of murder, and descends into darker and darker territory as the case raises the question of just how far she’d go in order to protect her flesh and blood.
My Happy Family (2017)
In this cheeky-yet-melancholy Georgian drama, the matriarch of a sprawling family moves out of the house, leaving everyone to fend for themselves. She has her reasons — and for most of the movie, her dependents struggle to figure them out. Fifty-something actress Ia Shugliashvili is the heart, soul and cock-eyed death stare of My Happy Family, which is no-bullshit in a Jerry Maguire kind of way.
The Night Comes for Us (2018)
Timo Tjahjanto’s Indonesian crime movie definitely has a plot but we can’t say it’s worth recapping. Like The Raid 2, the real joy of The Night Comes for Us is the relentless, hyper-gory action sequences that fill nearly every second of the runtime. From pool cues to meat hooks, everything sharp enough to be an weapon is a weapon. Bone-crushing has never been this satisfying.
No Country for Old Men (2007)
The Coen brothers have always been fascinated with the Western, and No Country for Old Men serves as their take on the genre in a contemporary setting. Despite knowing better, Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) takes the cash he discovers at the site of a drug deal gone bad, putting himself in the crosshairs of hitman Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem). With little music to accompany the unfolding tense chase, No Country is a gorgeously sparse film as lawmen and outlaws reckon with the changing world, their consciences and the idea of fate.
The tale of a girl and her super-pig, Okja is warm — and wild — at heart. As Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun) sets out to save her super-pig, Okja, from the corporate clutches that whisk her away from her, director Bong Joon-ho (we couldn’t help but recommend him twice) pulls off thrilling action sequences and social commentary in equal measure, all the while maintaining sight of the fact that it’s love that anchors the film. With asides that specifically channel the film’s pedigree as a South Korean-American production, it’s utterly unique — as is its central character. Viewer beware: the movie may make you into a vegetarian if you aren’t already.
If we’re kind and polite, the world will be right. Or so goes the central ethos of the Paddington films, which bring the children’s book star to life through a mixture of CGI and vocal performance from Ben Whishaw. Paddington Bear, who finds himself adopted by the Brown family in London after leaving his aunt and uncle in Peru, is a tremendously charming hero, especially as his motto becomes more and more valuable in trying times. This first film finds him adapting to human life, as well as evading the clutches of taxidermist Millicent Clyde (Nicole Kidman), who has an old bone to pick with the hapless bear.
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
Despite less than auspicious beginnings as a film based on a Disneyland theme park ride, you’ll be hard pressed to find a movie more fun than Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Though Gore Verbinski (of The Ring remake and, more recently, A Cure for Wellness) might seem like an odd pick to helm a family-friendly flick, his affinity of strangeness is exactly what makes Black Pearl so great. This tale of undead pirates balances fun with horror (the reveal of the skeleton crew is unforgettable), and holds up even after 15 years and many attempts to cash in on Jack Sparrow.
Prelude to War (1942)
Netflix threw this documentary up after commissioning the documentary series Five Came Back, and it’s well worth a watch for history buffs.The first of Frank Capra’s Why We Fight propaganda films commissioned by the American government during World War II, the film is a transportive explanation of the war effort and Nazi-vs-American conflict through the army’s rah-rah lens. Capra, best known for directing It’s a Wonderful Life, is one of the greats, and his camera once again speaks volumes.
The Prince of Egypt (1998)
The Prince of Egypt has it all: stunning visuals, terrific vocal performances and the gobsmackingly great tag team of Hans Zimmer and Stephen Schwartz taking on the score and songs, respectively. An adaptation of the Book of Exodus, the film is a surprisingly sharp work, equal parts cartoon fantasy and historical epic. Starring Val Kilmer as Moses and Ralph Fiennes as Ramesses II, with Michelle Pfeiffer, Sandra Bullock, and Jeff Goldblum among the supporting cast, the film doesn’t shy away from the darker and more violent aspects of the tale it’s depicting, and remains one of the most underrated animated films of the last few decades.
From Korean animator Yeon Sang-ho — best known for his jump to live action, 2016’s zombie knockout Train to Busan (also on Netflix) — Psychokinesis follows Seok-heon, a bumbling, borderline-alcoholic security guard who drinks from a mountain spring recently infected by a meteorite and gains telekinetic powers. Ryu Seung-ryong is a joy as the oaf, who’s learning to control his abilities just as his estranged daughter re-enters his life and sucks him into a real-estate-driven class war. Psychokinesis plays Seok-heon’s “fighting style” for laughs, and while it’s not as cartoonish as Chinese director Stephen Chow’s genre hybrids, the movie can make the flying object mayhem both cheeky and thrilling. The political edge gives weight to Seok-heon’s superpowered decisions, but Sang-ho never loses sight of why everyone showed up: to push the psychic conceit to bigger and bigger heights.
Raw is the debut feature from French director Julia Ducournau, but you’d never know it based on the confidence in every frame of this graphic, gory look at femininity and sexuality. Young Justine (Garance Marillier) arrives to veterinarian school with pent up desire after years of low-key repression under her parents’ roof. The feelings eventually explode out of her … in the form of cannibalism. Taste it for yourself.
Roxanne Roxanne (2018)
A conventional biopic can do wonders with the right subject and star. Such is the case with Roxanne Roxanne, which chronicles the young hip-hop career of Roxanne Shanté, and gives newcomer Chanté Adams the spitfire role of a lifetime. Co-starring Nia Long as her tough-as-nails mother and Mahershala Ali as a man who woos her away from family life, the young, rocky road to fame — and rap history books — is thrives on the musical talents of all involved.
Schindler’s List (1993)
During the Holocaust, German businessman Oskar Schindler managed to save over a thousand refugees by employing them in his factories. Though the idea of making a film about the events was first floated by Steven Spielberg in the ’80s, it took another decade (and several attempts at passing the script to other directors) for Spielberg to finally feel ready to take the project on. The resulting work is intensely affecting, and shockingly so for a filmmaker who had been known, up until that point, for fun. Though some have accused Spielberg of succumbing to more maudlin tendencies in the film’s conclusion, it remains an inarguably great film.
Shaolin Soccer (2001)
The plot of Shaolin Soccer makes no sense under the best of circumstances, but that hardly matters. Stephen Chow, who directed and stars in the film, has a sixth sense for how to keep an audience’s attention — just try Kung Fu Hustle on for size. Shaolin Soccer, his previous film, has a former Shaolin monk (Chow) find inspiration in a soccer star, and attempt to use the sport to bring Shaolin kung fu to a wider audience. The soccer they play has absolutely no bearing in real life — and neither does the kung fu, really — but what joy is there in Chow’s work if not that sense of escapism?
The Shining (1980)
The Shining is one of the jewels in Stephen King’s crown as the reigning master of horror, and Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation remains one of the most seminal horror films of all time (even if King doesn’t care for the movie). From “REDRUM” to Jack Nicholson’s frozen grimace, it’s a work that’s constantly cited in pop culture, and for good reason. The tale of the Torrance family’s brush with the Overlook Hotel and resulting descent into insanity is as unsettling for an audience as it is for its characters.
Shirkers is the kind of movie that, if you’ve ever had any creative aspirations in your life at all, will stop your breath. The documentary, made by Sandi Tan, relates the creation — and loss — of a movie that Tan shot as a young woman. It might have been Singapore’s first independent film if not for the man she considered her mentor, who disappeared with all of the footage. The glimpse we get of what might have been is just as affecting as the documentary’s look at how that experience still affects the people who lived through it, today.
Slow West (2015)
Slow West lives up to its title as an unusually thoughtful, slow-paced Western. When Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) leaves Scotland for America to search for the girl he loves, he quickly gets more than he bargained for, and employs a bounty hunter (Michael Fassbender) for protection. The further west the pair goes, the more the film ping-pongs between humor and tragedy, peace and violence, with the only constant being Jay’s conviction to find his sweetheart (who, we are told from the outset, doesn’t quite care for him in the same way). It’s a off-kilter film, and a welcome breath of fresh air in an old genre.
Speed Racer (2008)
After The Matrix trilogy, the Wachowskis turned their attention to adapting an actual manga/anime, and delivered one of the most dizzying, electrifying blockbusters of the CG era. Emilie Hirsch, Christina Ricci, John Goodman and Susan Sarandon preserve the cartoonish nature of the original Speed Racer, but it’s in curvy tracks and prismatic landscapes where the Wachowskis test the limits of our retinas.
Stardust is one of the most unabashedly sweet fantasies of the last few decades. When Tristan (Charlie Cox) goes to retrieve a fallen star in order to impress the woman he loves, he finds that the star has taken human form (Claire Danes). Unfortunately, he’s not the only one who’s after her, and in the ensuing chaos, finds himself caught up between witches, princes and air pirates as everyone vies for the (literal) heart of the star. Adventure and romance ensue, as does an all-around good time.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)
The platonic ideal of the spy movie can be found in Tomas Alfredson’s take on John le Carré’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. The film, like its characters, takes care to hide its heart, but it’s ultimately a tremendously warm film, defying its muted palette and Cold War setting. George Smiley’s (Gary Oldman) search for a double agent within the British secret service is a slow burn rather than a smash and grab, with clues as to its final revelation buried in the music and the small moments between characters rather than in any broad, obvious strokes.
Touch of Evil (1958)
Written, directed by and co-starring Orson Welles, Touch of Evil is one of the great film noirs, as well as the final movie that Welles made in the Hollywood studio system. Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh star as newlyweds Mike and Susie Vargas, who find themselves drawn into a police conspiracy. The film rewards the attentive viewer (or repeat viewings), as there’s so much packed into every aspect of the film — from its visuals to its story — that it’s near impossible to process in one go. There’s something autobiographical about Welles’ turn as Police Captain Hank Quinlan, too, who wants control that he can’t quite have.
The Truman Show (1998)
In the age of YouTube careerists and advertising squeezing into every facet of our lives, one could imagine The Truman Show losing a bit of its speculative-fiction luster. Not at all; Jim Carrey’s arc — from incarcerated TV personality to awoken soul — still packs the eeriness of Philip K. Dick and the gravity of Ray Bradbury, a sci-fi parable built from all-too-recognizable parts. Philip Glass’ score will always bring the tears in the end.
In Unforgiven, director and star Clint Eastwood delivers the revisionist Western, grappling with the image he’d cultivated as the Man with No Name in Sergio Leone’s spaghetti Westerns. William Munny (Eastwood), a man notorious for his past as a gunslinger, is brought out of retirement (and his commitment to never killing again) to do one last job. By taking apart the usual romantic notions of the American Wes, Unforgiven serves as a meditation on Eastwood’s own career, and the idea of the aging movie star as a whole.
V for Vendetta (2005)
Whether or not it’s a faithful adaptation of Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s graphic novel, the film version of V for Vendetta is as resonant as the bomb-and-fireworks show set off by its title character. Contemporary relevance aside, the story of a revolutionary’s push against a neo-fascist government has a drive to it that’s impressively backed by a masked Hugo Weaving, playing V, and Natalie Portman as Evey, a young woman caught up in the changing tides. Dealing with totalitarianism, terrorism, homophobia, and religious freedom, it’s a surprisingly complex film, and one of the better recent comic book adaptations.
The Wailing (2017)
If you loved the metaphysical hodgepodge of True Detective, the pounding atmosphere of Silent Hill games or the oddball dread of Bong Joon-ho’s detective epic Memories of Murder, then you’re luck: The Wailing ties it all together. Instigated by brutality and splintered by zombies, demons and simpler forms of murder, this sprawling, 156-minute horror epic follows a cop, Jong-goo, as he investigates a killing in a small South Korean village. As he digs deeper into the case, he encounters hermits, shamans and local folk with their own tangential stories (to paraphrase: “Oh, you saw a naked man with glowing red eyes eating a deer? OK!”). Director Na Hong-jin builds horror to a rare, operatic conclusion, and while diversions of rain pitter-pattering on rooftops may test those looking for a night of jump scares, his work in The Wailing will reward the patient with genuine nightmare fuel.
45 Years (2015)
Too tiny to take the Oscars by storm and earn the love it deserves, Andrew Haigh’s follow up to Weekend finds a married couple (Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay) celebrating the longevity of their marriage when a long-buried secret threatens everything. To say more would be to spoil the turns, and the difficult decisions the characters make as the story plays out, but hear this and hear it well: Rampling gives the greatest performance of the century (so far).