Recreating an FBI investigation from the 1970s with a cast that includes Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and a never better Christian Bale, David O. Russell’s love of antagonistic energy and abrasive personalities finds a melancholic heart amidst the self-destructive cons of this brittle and stinging drama.
Directed with menacing wonder by Denis Villeneuve, this is compelling and original hard science-fiction, with Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner as two experts trying to communicate with obliquely intentioned aliens landed on an increasingly panicky planet. The story folds in on itself, so that triumph is tragedy and vice-versa in an elegiac requiem.
An otherworldly love story for our age of displacement, Mati Diop’s remarkable debut feature is a beguiling mix of social realism and supernatural longing. A young Senegalese couple, Ada (Mama Bineta Sane) and Souleiman (Ibrahima Traore), are torn apart when Souleiman tries to leave for Europe—only to return in a different form.
One of the great Australian debuts of all time, and an equally great horror film from Jennifer Kent, in which the monster is not only under the bed but also inside Essie Davis’ besieged parent. Whether through fear of love or love of fear, this claustrophobic thriller lodges itself where it can’t be ignored.
One of the very first Netflix originals. The savage, scarring plight of African child soldiers—with Idris Elba as their abusive, messianic leader—is captured with vivid strokes and lasting pain in this drama from True Detective (and upcoming 007 film No Time to Die) director Cary Joji Fukunaga.
A bleakly bemused black comedy about Wall Street greed and systemic failure of government regulation that led to the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. It’s only outsiders and contrarians—memorably played by the likes of Christian Bale, Steve Carrell and Ryan Gosling—who see what’s looming. Adam McKay’s film makes their profits into a bitter, condemnatory victory.
In his breakthrough second feature Taika Waititi does an outstanding job of striking a balance between the weight of nostalgia and the wisdom of hindsight that marks any film about childhood. Set in 1984—cue Michael Jackson fantasies—it tracks an 11-year-old boy (an exuberant James Rolleston) whose life is turned upside down by the return of his absent father (Waititi). What you wish for, the movie reveals, isn’t what you think it is.
Australia’s belief in defining itself through the deeds of soldiers is torn apart in Bruce Beresford’s ground-breaking examination of war crimes, scapegoats and imperial hypocrisy as a trio of Australian combatants fighting in the Boer War—memorably played by Edward Woodward, Bryan Brown and Lewis Fitz-Gerald—face a court-martial.
Ang Lee’s wrenching adaptation of E. Annie Proulx’s short story remains one of the finest cinematic love stories of the century—and Heath Ledger’s best performance. With Jake Gyllenhaal, he plays a 1960s cowhand whose remote winter’s work blossoms into a love that can never have space to exist, or ultimately survive. The finely etched emotion feels both instantaneous and eternal.
Daniel Goldhaber’s online reprise of body horror is a bracing example of the genre’s new and instructively weird indie wave. It traces with throbbing unease the psychological fracture of an approval-fueled (and paid) cam girl (Madeline Brewer) when a doppelganger takes control of her video feed.
For once an Australian genre film—in this case about society’s collapse after a zombie apocalypse—that makes more use of this country than the landscape. On the run with his baby daughter, Andy (Martin Freeman) finds himself in a perilous world starting anew, with Indigenous history and the crimes against it pushed to the fore.
Words unsaid are powerful and mere glances devastating in Todd Haynes’ heart-wrenching romance from the epicentre of 1950s America. With a pulse that brings the grip of plunging desire, a married Connecticut housewife (Cate Blanchett) and a department store clerk (Rooney Mara) create a tender pocket universe that defies the wider world.
A gateway film that introduced new audiences to the venerable Wuxia martial arts genre, Ang Lee’s subtitled smash hit is a period adventure where melancholic reserve and gravity-defying fight scenes gracefully intertwine. Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh are the warriors seeking a stolen sword—and perhaps each other—but the scene stealer is Zhang Ziyi as their lippy teenage foe.>
In telling the story of a group of black Vietnam War veterans returning to the country, to search both for loot and the memory of their fallen leader (the late Chadwick Boseman, in flashback), Spike Lee serves up a maximal mix of political commentary, time-shifting storytelling, sharp performances and B-movie action sequences.
A brittle, telling invocation of masculinity told through the lens of near future science-fiction, Alex Garland’s directorial debut places Domhnall Gleeson’s humble programmer into the isolated world of Oscar Isaac’s tech mogul, where he’s tasked with assessing Alicia Vikander’s humanoid artificial intelligence. The existential queries sing with suggestion and the sleek surfaces reveal increasingly disturbing imagery.
When a pair of co-dependant brothers, played by Robert Pattinson and Benny Safdie (who also directs alongside his brother Josh), rob a New York bank they tumble into a netherworld of documentary-like street realism and compelling chaos that’s nerve-jangling and revealing. Not recommended for anyone who grinds their teeth.
Michael Mann’s riveting crime saga—which places Robert De Niro’s master thief and Al Pacino’s driven police detective at professional odds and personal sympathy—criss-crosses Los Angeles with procedural intricacy, underworld twists, and taut action set-pieces. It’s a tale of cops and crooks, told with startling personal intimacy: the women connected to these men are crucial characters.
Macon Blair’s Sundance Film Festival winner is a comic vigilante thriller with Lynchian trace elements. Common decency motivates the unlikely heroes—Melanie Lynskey’s nursing assistant and Elijah Woods’ nunchucks-wielding neighbour—on an increasingly dangerous quest.
A modern epic of American organised crime told through the ramifications of friendship and multiple generations of severed family, Martin Scorsese’s autumnal gangster tale convenes Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci. The digital de-ageing is widespread, but ultimately this is a magisterial film of restraint and regret.
Spike Lee proves that he can make a commercial thriller—with Denzel Washington as the Manhattan cop and Clive Owen the bank robber—in his own gripping way, adding in historic judgment and Jodie Foster as a nefarious fixer.
A bleak, astute modern tragedy, Andrew Dominik’s New Orleans crime film is about worlds in collapse. America’s economy implodes as the 2008 election plays out, while a hitman (Brad Pitt) sent to punish thieves and a mob functionary finds that his colleague (James Gandolfini) has lost his nerve. Amid the violent punctuation the two men—respectively silent and shattered—are compelling together.
David Fincher—with a script from his late father, Jack—ventures into Hollywood’s past to speak to the present. The artist’s responsibility, the studio system’s corruption, and the burden of creation all feature in a 1940s-styled black and white recreation of how Gary Oldman’s flailing screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz wrote the first draft of Orson Welles’ epochal debut Citizen Kane.
Divorce is an institutional act of mutual destruction and a plumbing of personal limits in Noah Baumbach’s east coast vs west coast drama, about the marital division of a Los Angeles actor (Scarlett Johansson) and a New York theatre director (Adam Driver). With Sondheim segues and Hollywood mores, it’s a painfully compelling experience.
Gravity was driven by computer code and special effects bent reality’s rationale in the movie that rebooted science-fiction and the action movie for the looming 21st century. Keanu Reeves is the everyman who becomes a digital warrior in a rebellion against a machine regime, and Lana and Lilly Wachowski’s blockbuster remains masterfully complete.
Baumbach’s vision of the artistic family—exasperating, cruelly cutting, and righteously blind to tragedy—finds full expression in this study of a needy, retired New York sculptor (Dustin Hoffman) and his children (including Ben Stiller and Adam Sandler). Each character comes into bracing focus.
A sports film ultimately about learning to understand what you’re worth, Bennett Miller’s reappraisal of Michael Lewis’ non-fiction best-seller was a turning point for Brad Pitt. Playing Billy Beane, a baseball team’s manager deploying statistical analysis to buck tradition, the actor brings years of the character’s frustration to just beneath the surface of his performance.
A satire of the life of Jesus Christ, organised religion, and the Biblical epica—mongst other targets—Monty Python’s legendary comedy troupe sketches blossomed into a complete and self-contained work with a movie both hilarious and defiant. Is there a better send-off than Eric Idle’s Always Look on the Bright Side of Life?
Nominated for four Academy Awards, Dee Rees’ mighty film is a study of historic divisions set in segregated rural Mississippi in the 1940s. But it has such a poetically tragic sense of the characters—led by Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke and Jason Mitchell—and their limitations that it transcends the period setting.
In this expertly observed Georgian drama, a middle-aged schoolteacher, Manana (Ia Shugliashvili), decides to move out of the apartment she lives in with three generations of her family. Anger, love and recrimination soon intermingle, each authentically expressed.
This is a gift from the action film gods: an unrelenting Indonesian production boasting a bone-crunching connection of R-rated violence and inventive fight choreography. When an assassin, Ito (Joe Taslim), relents on a hit, his triad sends everyone they have to kill him. And they have a lot.
Set both on the U.S.-Mexican border in 1980 and in a realm of eternal, otherworldly violence, Cormac McCarthy’s novel became a terrifyingly taut neo-western pursuit. A Vietnam War veteran (Josh Brolin) attempts to hold onto drug cartel cash he has found even while a nightmarish assassin (Javier Bardem) pursues him. Tommy Lee Jones’ closing monologue is the definitive scene in his entire career.
A dreamy, discontented critique of youth culture made with suitable visual style for the consumer age, Bertrand Bonello’s arthouse thriller follows a diverse group of Parisian youth who plan and execute a terrorist attack then take refuge in an expensive department store. There are few obvious answers, but the mood and filmmaking are illuminating.
As Parasite made clear, the South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho makes masterfully thrilling movies about capitalism’s crimes. They can sweep you up, but also leave scars. Here a young girl, Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun) tries to save her genetically modified super pig from its corporate owners—dual Tilda Swinton roles—amidst heart-fluttering flourishes and cruel realities.
Lynn Shelton was a totemic figure in American independent filmmaking, framing a movement with Humpday and Your Sister’s Sister. One of her final features, Outside In, stars Jay Duplass, Edie Falco and Kaitlyn Dever in the story of a man returned home from 20 years in jail whose reckonings are captured with great empathy.
As a downtown Manhattan couple trying to have a baby on the difficult side of 40, Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti’s characters provide bittersweet experience amid the piercing observations of Tamara Jenkins’ domestic drama. Lives get messed up and worn down, until you reach the enduring bedrock of the couple’s connection.
You do not get Hollywood studio films like this anymore: a baroque revenge western from Sam Raimi rifled through with Evil Dead camera techniques as Sharon Stone’s gunslinger takes on Gene Hackman, Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio. High noon takes on a whole new meaning.
An offbeat independent romantic comedy that boasts a remarkable performance from Cobie Smulders (opposite Guy Pearce) as a personal trainer with a furious certainty about what she doesn’t want in life.
Titanic as an act of social memory, intimate as personal memoir, and shot in exquisite black and white, Alfonso Cuaron’s depiction of an indigenous maid (Yalitza Aparicio) and her relationship with the 1970s Mexico City family that employs—and implores—her is magisterial piece of filmmaking.
Aardman’s stop motion animation hit moved from TV to cinemas with this expressive adventure in which the crew from Mossy Bottom Farm, led by the irrepressible Shaun, go to town. Mostly free of dialogue, the narrative is driven by all-ages gags, silent movie techniques and genuine empathy. It’s a delight.
A horror film told through female endurance, Denis Villeneuve’s crime thriller stars Emily Blunt as an FBI door-kicker seconded to a drug cartel task force, menacingly staffed by Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro. Their purposes are at odds with her beliefs and, ultimately, her safety.
With Kim Tae-ri as the coolest ship’s captain a space opera has seen since Han Solo, this orbital South Korean adventure fizzes up familiar elements—ragtag crew, a very special child everyone’s pursuing, a lippy android and hull-scraping chases—to provide an irreverent but impeccably composed update of the sci-fi blockbuster.
Perhaps the best—and certainly the truest—comic-book adaptation, this animated addition to the world of the New York web-slinger captured both the emotional spirit of the Spider-man franchise and the wondrous visual possibilities. It’s bright, exhilarating and alive to teenage hopes and fears. Plus, Spider-Ham!
A pair of excellent Adam Sandler performances make this list; please do not watch any other of his Netflix originals. With its echoes of Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant, this pressure cooker thriller, made with signature style by siblings Josh and Benny Safdie, stars the comic as a hustling NYC jeweller constantly raising the stakes of his own bets.
Set in 1980s wartime Tehran, Babak Anvari’s horror film about a menacing spirit nightmarishly mixes ancient myth and contemporary political repression to terrifying effect.
This guide is regularly updated to reflect changes in Netflix‘s catalogue. For a list of capsule reviews that have been removed from this page because they are no longer available on the platform, visit here.