The 50 Best Movies on Netflix Right Now

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The sheer volume of films on Netflix — and the site’s less than ideal interface — can make finding a genuinely great movie there a difficult task. To help, we’ve plucked out the 50 best films currently streaming on the service in the United States, updated regularly as titles come and go. And as a bonus, we link to more great movies on Netflix within many of our write-ups below. (Note: Streaming services sometimes remove titles or change starting dates without giving notice.)

Here are our lists of the best TV shows on Netflix, the best movies on Amazon Prime Video and the best of everything on Hulu and Disney Plus.

ImageMichael Douglas in the “The Game” (1997).
Credit...Polygram Filmed Entertainment

David Fincher followed up the smash success of his breakthrough feature “Seven” with this puzzle movie, which begins as yet another sleek, Michael Douglas-fronted valentine to yuppie extravagance before taking a hard turn into the province of jittery conspiracy thrillers. Douglas is spot on as Nicholas Van Orton, a grim investment banker whose ne’er-do-well brother (Sean Penn) gives him the birthday gift of a role-playing game that slowly, methodically strips away his money and power. Our critic wrote that Fincher shows “real finesse in playing to the paranoia of these times.”

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Brad Pitt teamed up again with Andrew Dominik, the writer and director of “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” for this “grisly little crime movie,” adapted from the novel “Cogan’s Trade.” Pitt and James Gandolfini (in one of his final roles) star as two contract killers sent by their mob bosses to take out a group of small-timers who robbed the wrong poker game. But “Softly” is neither a traditional gangster movie nor a Tarantino-style hit-man flick. Dominik sets the film during the 2008 financial crisis and presidential election, the better to situate his central thesis: that capitalism and organized crime aren’t as far apart as we might like to think.

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Jennifer Lawrence won the Oscar for best actress for her spectacularly sassy and unapologetically haunted performance in David O. Russell’s (somewhat loose) adaptation of Matthew Quick’s novel. It’s a balancing act of seemingly contradictory tones and styles, slipping nimbly from serious mental-health drama to screwball comedy to romance thanks to the deceptive casualness of Russell’s approach and the skill of his cast — particularly Bradley Cooper as its unsteady protagonist and Robert De Niro and Jackie Weaver (all also Oscar nominees) as his parents. Our critic called it “exuberant” and “a delight.”

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This inspirational sports drama has been so thoroughly embedded into popular culture, it’s easy to forget that it was once as much of a scrappy underdog as its hero, a New Jersey teenager who moves to California and stumbles into the cross-hairs of a gang of local bullies. Its director, John G. Avildsen, was an old hand at stories like this; he directed the original “Rocky,” and as with that classic, the power of “The Karate Kid” lies less in the conflict at its conclusion than in the complex relationships that lead its characters there.

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When this crime-infused comedic drama roared onto the indie scene in the fall of 1997, it was widely (and favorably) compared to “Pulp Fiction.” It’s not hard to guess why: the setting amid the seedy underbelly of the Los Angeles suburbs; the screenplay filled with sly cinematic allusions; the hotshot young auteur, directing his second feature. But Paul Thomas Anderson was no Tarantino wannabe; “Boogie Nights,” his breakthrough film, is most memorable for the affection it shows its characters — a crew of pornographers and outcasts — and for its humanistic approach to their eccentricities. Our critic wrote that his talent is “as big and exuberant as skywriting.”

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When Joel and Ethan Coen followed up the Oscar-winning triumph of “Fargo” with a broad comedy about a shambling stoner, a botched kidnapping and a case of mistaken identity, audiences and critics scratched their heads in bafflement. It was only when the film hit home video and cable that it began to find its cult audience, which tuned in to its idiosyncratic dialogue, copious catchphrases, memorable characters and unique comic rhythms. Jeff Bridges is perfect as Jeff Lebowski, an easy-breezy, good-time guy who is mistaken for “the Big Lebowski,” a millionaire with a missing trophy wife. John Goodman and Steve Buscemi are uproarious as his bowling buddies, a yin-yang combination of blowhard and wallflower.

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George Cukor’s energetic adaptation of the Broadway musical (itself an adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion”) won an astonishing eight Academy Awards, including best picture, best director and best actor, and it remains one of the cornerstones of the movie musical genre. Audrey Hepburn shines as Eliza Doolittle, the lower-class Cockney flower girl who the phonetics professor Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison) believes he can turn into a proper lady my merely refining her speech. Alan Jay Lerner’s intelligent script carefully navigates issues of sex and class while concocting a credible “opposites attract” chemistry between the leads. Our critic called it “a film that enchantingly conveys the rich endowments of the famous stage production in a fresh and flowing cinematic form.” (Fans of classic movie musicals should also check out “White Christmas.”)

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Clint Eastwood directs and stars in this modest Best Picture winner, and it’s a smooth fit for his classical style: It has the feel, texture and tone of a 1940s boxing movie, but with the modern twist of a crusty old-timer taking a “girl fighter” under his wing. But it’s not really a sports movie. It’s about the comfortable, lived-in, longtime friendship between Frankie (Eastwood) and Scrap (Morgan Freeman); the subtle respect Scrap pays to Maggie (Hilary Swank) and her tenacity; and the evolution of Frankie’s irritation toward Maggie into grudging respect and, eventually, love and sacrifice. A.O. Scott called it “a work of utter mastery that at the same time has nothing in particular to prove.” (Eastwood’s “The Outlaw Josey Wales” is also on Netflix.)

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Sean Penn and Tim Robbins won Oscars for their work with Kevin Bacon as childhood friends whose paths sharply diverge after a horrifying trauma — and intersect again as the cycle of violence circles back. Clint Eastwood’s modest directorial style is ideal for this adaptation of the Dennis Lehane novel; he approaches these chilling events with an everyday resignation, and his actors underplay appropriately. Our critic called it “a film that consists almost entirely of haunting scenes.” (Looking for more drama? Check out “A Single Man” and “Croupier.”)

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Ava DuVernay won the directing award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival for this sensitive, thoughtful and moving drama. Our critic Manohla Dargis noted, “she wants you to look, really look, at her characters,” seeing past the clichés and assumptions of so many other movies, as she tells the story of Ruby (Emayatzy Corinealdi), a young nurse whose husband (Omari Hardwick) is in prison. Ruby dutifully visits, and keeps a candle burning at home, but when a kind bus driver (David Oyelowo) takes a shine to her, she begins to question her choices and allegiances. Corinealdi is a marvelous presence, playing the role with empathy and complexity, and the considerable charisma of Oyelowo — who would team up again with DuVernay for “Selma” — makes her dilemma all the more difficult. (Fans of this moving indie romance may also enjoy “Love Jones.”)

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A thrilling and inspiring portrait of an original artist whose medium of choice is fireworks and who creates dazzling installations that fill the sky or explode in an art gallery. In 2014 Cai Guo-Qiang set out to mount a project that has obsessed him since 1994, a half-kilometer-tall ladder of fire that he has unsuccessfully attempted three times. The director Kevin Macdonald (“Last King of Scotland”) follows the planning of “Sky Ladder” and through it reveals the artist’s personality; soft-spoken but driven, Cai takes palpable joy in his work and faces its challenges with inspiring enthusiasm. The logistics of the ladder are mind-boggling, but the payoff is tremendous.

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Dee Rees, the director of “Mudbound” (also streaming on Netflix) made her feature directorial debut with this heartfelt and thoughtful story about a Brooklyn teenager (the “incandescentAdepero Oduye) named Alike (pronounced ah-LEE-kay), and her delicate attempt to come out as a lesbian — fully aware of the resistance she will face from her controlling mother (Kim Wayans). Rees, who also penned the screenplay, tells this semi-autobiographical tale like a richly detailed short story, well-versed in the lives these characters live, the neighborhoods they inhabit and the lies they tell one another in order to coexist. But she also captures the seductiveness of the subcultures Alike begins to explore, and the alternative they present: the choice to live one’s truth, with no apologies.

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Roman Polanski brings a 1970s sensibility to a classic 1940s private eye movie, and explores the tension between those two eras — between what we were traditionally shown and the sex, drugs and moral rot that production codes kept offscreen. Jack Nicholson crafts one of his finest performances as J.J. Gittes, a laid-back Los Angeles investigator who gets in way over his head, while Faye Dunaway takes the conventions of the slinky femme fatale and turns them into a portrait of genuine pain and abuse. A.O. Scott says the film “pushes beyond the conventions of the genre.” (If you like throwback crime dramas, check out “Road to Perdition” or “American Me.”)

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Daniel Day-Lewis won his second Oscar for his towering performance in this 2007 period drama from the writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson, which uses Upton Sinclair’s novel “Oil!” as the loose inspiration for a sprawling, challenging indictment of greed, capitalism, religion and the American ethos. The filmmaker showed, for the first time, his skill at marshaling a big-canvas historical epic, while maintaining the personal touches and narrative quirks that made his earlier pictures so memorable. Manohla Dargis called Day-Lewis’s turn “a thrilling performance, among the greatest I’ve seen.” (Anderson’s next feature, “The Master,” is also streaming on Netflix.)


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The director Steven Soderbergh reunites with Andre Holland, his co-star from “The Knick,” for this rarest of beasts: a sports movie without any sports. The screenplay by Tarell Alvin McCraney is instead about the business of professional athletics, set during an NBA lockout in which a high-powered agent (Holland) attempts to use the shutdown to turn the entire league — and all of the presumptions and hierarchies of organized sports — upside down. McCraney’s script is rich with historical references and inside-basketball shout-outs; Soderbergh’s direction is reflexively nimble, using on-the-fly photography and interviews with real N.B.A. players to give the film a sense of documentary immediacy. A.O. Scott called it “an exhilarating and argumentative caper.”

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The director Jon Favreau started his career making chatty indies like “Swingers” and is now the go-to guy for Marvel (“Iron Man”) and Disney (“The Lion King”). This “enchanted” 2005 family adventure was the bridge he built between those worlds. Based on a 2002 novel by the “Jumanji” author Chris Van Allsburg, it tells a similar story in which children are drawn into the world of a board game that is perhaps too immersive. The special effects are jaw-dropping, and the adventure elements are enthralling (particularly for young audiences), but Favreau’s background in small-scale, character-driven narratives shines through in the sweet and surprisingly moving conclusion. (Younger viewers will also enjoy “The Muppets.”)

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The acclaimed stage director George C. Wolfe brings August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize winner to the screen, quite faithfully — which is just fine, as a play this good requires little in the way of “opening up,” so rich are the characters and so loaded is the dialogue. The setting is a Chicago music studio in 1927, where the “Mother of the Blues” Ma Rainey (Viola Davis) and her band are meeting to record several of her hits, though that business is frequently disrupted by the tensions within the group over matters both personal and artistic. Davis is superb as Rainey, chewing up her lines and spitting them out with contempt at anyone who crosses her, and Chadwick Boseman, who died in 2020 and won a posthumous Golden Globe best actor award for his performance, is electrifying as the showy sideman, Levee, a boiling pot of charisma, flash and barely concealed rage. A.O. Scott calls the film “a powerful and pungent reminder of the necessity of art.”

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Genre filmmakers have spent the past three years trying (and mostly failing) to recreate the magic elixir of horror thrills and social commentary that made “Get Out” so special, but few have come as close as the British director Remi Weekes’s terrifying and thought-provoking Netflix thriller. He tells the story of two South Sudanese refugees seeking asylum in London, who are placed in public housing — a residence they are forbidden from leaving, which becomes a problem when things start going bump in the night. In a masterly fashion Weekes expands this simple haunted-house premise into a devastating examination of grief and desperation, but sacrifices no scares along the way, making “His House” a rare movie that prompts both tears and goose bumps.

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Mildred and Richard Loving never saw themselves as heroes: As far as the Virginia couple were concerned, they were merely two regular people who wanted to spend their lives together. So the writer-director Jeff Nichols (“Mud”) makes “Loving” a personal tale, trusting that the politics will be apparent. The Australian actor Joel Edgerton and the Ethiopian-Irish actress Ruth Negga are wholly convincing as these rural Southerners, creating a relationship so unstaged and lived-in that the emotional stakes are as important as the historical ramifications. Manohla Dargis raved, “There are few movies that speak to the American moment as movingly — and with as much idealism.”

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Too many people only know Oscar Grant III because of the final moments of his life, in which he was shot to death by a Bay Area transit cop on a subway platform in the early hours of New Year’s Day, 2009 — a tragedy captured by the cameras of several passengers. But we too often reduce victims to their deaths, and this heartfelt drama seeks to restore Grant’s life to its full richness and complexity. Director Ryan Coogler’s “powerful and sensitive debut feature” focuses instead on Grant’s final day, and on the relationships he attempts to repair and cultivate, blissfully unaware of the fate that awaits him. It’s a wrenching, humanistic portrait of an average life, cut cruelly short by prejudice and circumstance. (Indie drama lovers may also enjoy “Residue” and “Into the Wild.”)

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The unlikely marriage of the screwball-inspired screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and the chilly visual stylist David Fincher birthed one of the finest works of both their careers, a “fleet, weirdly funny, exhilarating, alarming and fictionalized” account of the early days of Facebook and its founder, Mark Zuckerberg (brought to hard-edge, sneering life by Jesse Eisenberg). Sorkin’s ingenious, Oscar-winning script spins the Facebook origin story as a Silicon Valley “Citizen Kane,” dazzlingly hopscotching through flashbacks and framing devices. But the ruthlessness of Fincher’s cleareyed direction is what brings the picture together, presciently framing Zuckerberg as the media mogul of the future — and hinting at the trouble that entails. (The Sorkin-scripted Silicon Valley drama “Steve Jobs” is also on Netflix.)

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Stanley Kubrick’s most controversial film, and perhaps his most disturbing (neither a small claim), was this 1971 adaptation of the cult novel by Anthony Burgess. Tracking the various misdeeds and attempted rehabilitation of a certified sociopath (Malcolm McDowell, at his most charismatically chilling), this is Kubrick at his most stylized, with the narrative’s hyperviolence cushioned by the striking cinematography, futuristic production design and jet-black humor. Our critic wrote that it “dazzles the senses and mind.”

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“I’ve always wanted to be in the movies,” Dick Johnson tells his daughter Kirsten, and he’s in luck — she makes them, documentaries mostly, dealing with the biggest questions of life and death. So they turn his struggle with Alzheimer’s and looming mortality into a movie, a “resonant and, in moments, profound” one (per Manohla Dargis), combining staged fake deaths and heavenly reunions with difficult familial interactions. He’s an affable fellow, warm and constantly chuckling, and a good sport, cheerfully playing along with these intricate, macabre (and darkly funny) scenarios. But it’s really a film about a father and daughter, and their lifelong closeness gives the picture an intimacy and openness uncommon even in the best documentaries. It’s joyful, and melancholy and moving, all at once. (Admirers of unconventional documentaries can also stream “Good Hair” on Netflix.)

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Winner of the Oscar for best picture of 2015, this ensemble drama focuses on the Boston Globe’s investigation of child sex abuse in the Roman Catholic church, which culminated in a bombshell series that won the Pulitzer Prize. But the accolades are merely the payoff; as with “All the President’s Men,” “Spotlight” is primarily interested in the unrelenting grunt work of shoe-leather reporting, of knocking on doors, digging through records, matching up names and praying for breakthroughs. Our critic called it a “gripping detective story” and “superlative newsroom drama.” (For more Oscar-winning drama, stream “Howards End” and “The Queen” on Netflix.)

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Gina Prince-Blythewood’s adaptation of Greg Rucka’s comic book series delivers the expected goods: The action beats are crisply executed, the mythology is clearly defined and the pieces are carefully placed for future installments. But that’s not what makes it special. Prince-Blythewood’s background is in character-driven drama (her credits include “Love and Basketball” and “Beyond the Lights”), and the film is driven by its relationships rather than its effects — and by a thoughtful attentiveness to the morality of its conflicts. A.O. Scott deemed it a “fresh take on the superhero genre,” and he’s right; though based on a comic book, it’s far from cartoonish. (For more action, queue up “Shadow” or “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.”)

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Spike Lee’s latest is a genre-hopping combination of war movie, protest film, political thriller, character drama and graduate-level history course in which four African-American Vietnam vets go back to the jungle to dig up the remains of a fallen compatriot — and, while they’re at it, a forgotten cache of stolen war gold. In other hands, it could’ve been a conventional back-to-Nam picture or “Rambo”-style action/adventure (and those elements, to be clear, are thrilling). But Lee goes deeper, packing the film with historical references and subtext, explicitly drawing lines from the civil rights struggle of the period to the protests of our moment. A.O. Scott called it a “long, anguished, funny, violent excursion into a hidden chamber of the nation’s heart of darkness.” (For more genre-infused drama, check out “Sleight.”)

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Ava DuVernay (“Selma”) directs this wide-ranging deep dive into mass incarceration, tracing the advent of America’s modern prison system — overcrowded and disproportionately populated by Black inmates — back to the 13th Amendment. It’s a giant topic to take on in 100 minutes, and DuVernay understandably has to do some skimming and slicing. But that necessity engenders its style: “13TH” tears through history with a palpable urgency that pairs nicely with its righteous fury. Our critic called it “powerful, infuriating and at times overwhelming.”

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Charlie Kaufman writes and directs this mind-bending adaptation of the Iain Reid novel, in which a nervous young woman (Jessie Buckley) accompanies her boyfriend (Jesse Plemons) on a road trip to meet his parents (Toni Collette and David Thewlis). Kaufman intersperses — and often interrupts — the de rigueur scenes of familial discomfort with surrealist imagery, nightmare logic, bizarre parallel stories and events shuffled out of time, bound together with his protagonist’s voice-over narration, a nonstop monologue of verbose uncertainty. A.O. Scott deemed it “Kaufman’s most assured and daring work so far as a director.” (“A Ghost Story” is another unusual mixture of surrealism, drama and pathos.)

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Greta Gerwig made her solo feature directorial debut with this funny and piercing coming-of-age story, set in her hometown, Sacramento, Calif. Saoirse Ronan dazzles in the title role as a quietly rebellious high-school senior whose quests for love and popularity bring her long-simmering resentments toward her mother (Laurie Metcalf, magnificent) to a boil. Parent-child conflicts are nothing new in teen stories, but Gerwig’s perceptive screenplay slashes through the familiar types and tropes, daring to create characters that are complicated and flawed, yet deeply sympathetic. A.O. Scott praised the film’s “freshness and surprise.” (“Yes, God, Yes” is a similarly insightful look at the teenage years.)


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Dustin Hoffman won his second Oscar for his meticulously wrought performance as Raymond Babbitt, an autistic savant who meets his brother Charlie (Tom Cruise) for the first time after the death of their father. But “Rain Man” is not a heartfelt, tear-jerking family drama; it’s “a becomingly modest, decently thought-out, sometimes funny film” in which Charlie, a small-time hustler, has to drag his brother on a cross-country road trip to fight what he feels is an unfair inheritance. In retrospect, though Hoffman collected all the awards and accolades, this is Cruise’s film — he’s the character who changes between the beginning and the end — and it’s a marvelous performance, expertly revealing and exploring the psychological cracks in the gleaming golden-boy persona he spent the ’80s perfecting. (Netflix is also streaming the later Best Picture winners “Dances With Wolves” and “The Artist.”)

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Josh and Benny Safdie have all but singlehandedly kept the tradition of the grimy New York street movie alive in the 21st century, with films like “Heaven Knows What” and “Good Time” (also streaming on Netflix) explicitly recalling the sweaty desperation of ’70s Gotham cinema. Their latest is also their best, featuring a career-high performance from Adam Sandler as a diamond dealer and inveterate gambler whose eternal quest for one big score puts his livelihood — and his very life — on the line. Manohla Dargis called it a “rough and glittering thing of beauty.”

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Martin Scorsese directs this exhilarating, informative and frequently funny chronicle of the early years of the folk singer, poet and provocateur born Robert Zimmerman but known to the world as Bob Dylan. Over its nearly four-hour running time, the film explores Dylan’s childhood, his immersion in the Greenwich Village folk scene, his groundbreaking “topical songs” and his still-controversial changeover to electrified rock music. But “No Direction Home” is more than your typical rock bio-doc (most of which are more like illustrated Wikipedia pages); thanks to Scorsese’s curiosity, Dylan’s candor, and David Tedeschi’s innovative editing, it becomes the story of an artist’s perpetual search for identity and truth. (Scorsese recently returned to the Dylan story with the playful Netflix original “Rolling Thunder Revue”; music doc fans will also love “What Happened, Miss Simone?”)

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“This camp changed the world,” we’re told, in the early moments of James LeBrecht and Nicole Newnham’s documentary, “and nobody knew about it.” The most refreshing and surprising element of this moving chronicle is that, title notwithstanding, the subject is not Camp Jened, the Catskills getaway that offered disabled kids and teens a “normal” summer camp experience. It’s about how that camp was the epicenter of a movement — a place where they could be themselves and live their lives didn’t have to be a utopian ideal, but a notion that they could carry out into the world, and use as a baseline for change. (Documentary fans should also seek out “Elena” and “F.T.A.”)

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The Oscar-nominated director David France (“How to Survive a Plague”) pays overdue tribute to Johnson, affectionately nicknamed the Mayor of Christopher Street, telling the story of her eventful life through interviews with friends and fascinating archival footage. And by framing her story as an investigation into her mysterious death 25 years before — an investigation led by Victoria Cruz, another transgender activist — France draws an explicit and affecting parallel to the violence against transgender women of color today. The result is both a powerful look at our past and a frightening snapshot of our present. (The vintage, and complementary, 1968 documentary “The Queen” is also streaming on Netflix.)

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Edgar Wright (“Baby Driver”) helms this unique action/comedy with a zippy graphic-novel aesthetic. Though it’s based on a comic book series and filled with video game-inspired sequences, viewers need not be familiar with either; Wright merely borrows the high-energy visual language of those genres to tell his sweet story more exuberantly and playfully. “Pilgrim” snaps and crackles, veering from one disarming set piece to the next with verve and vitality; A.O. Scott praised its “speedy, funny, happy-sad spirit.” And it’s a “before they were stars” extravaganza, presciently filled with talented young actors (Brie Larson, Anna Kendrick, Aubrey Plaza, Mae Whitman, Alison Pill and many more) who were just about to pop. (For more wild comedy, check out “Superbad” and “Legally Blonde.”)

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A film directed by the maker of such violence- and profanity-laden classics as “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull,” and “Goodfellas” isn’t an obvious choice for family entertainment. But the source material for this 2011 charmer from Martin Scorsese centers on another of his obsessions: cinema history. The titular novel by Brian Selznick concerns a young orphan boy’s love of the then-nascent motion picture form, forged in the tiny cinemas of 1930s Paris. By exploring the boy’s unexpected bond with a bitter shopkeeper, Scorsese mixes heartfelt storytelling with film history. But it won’t bore the kids, thanks to the generous helpings of slapstick comedy, jaw-dropping effects and full-on movie magic. Manohla Dargis called it “serious, beautiful, wise to the absurdity of life and in the embrace of a piercing longing.” (For more high-spirited family fun, check out “Rango” and “ParaNorman.”)

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The director of “Tangerine,” Sean Baker, returns with another warm and funny portrait of life on the fringes, melding a cast of nonactors and newcomers with an Oscar-nominated Willem Dafoe as the manager of a cheap Orlando motel populated by confused tourists and barely-managing families. The script (by Baker and Chris Bergoch) captures, with startling verisimilitude, the anxieties of living paycheck-to-paycheck (particularly when the next paycheck’s very existence is uncertain) while also borrowing the devil-may-care playfulness of the children at the story’s center. Our critic called it “risky and revelatory.” (Fans of this coming-of-age drama may also enjoy “The Kindergarten Teacher” and “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.”)


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Documentary filmmakers have long been fascinated by the logistics and complexities of manual labor, but Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert’s recent Oscar winner for best documentary feature views these issues through a decidedly 21st-century lens. Focusing on a closed GM plant in Dayton, Ohio, that’s taken over by a Chinese auto glass company, Bognar and Reichert thoughtfully, sensitively (and often humorously) explore how cultures — both corporate and general — clash. Manohla Dargis calls it “complex, stirring, timely and beautifully shaped, spanning continents as it surveys the past, present and possible future of American labor.” (Netflix’s 2018 Best Documentary winner, “Icarus,” is also currently streaming.)

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Martin Scorsese reteams with Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci for the first time since “Casino” (1995), itself a return to the organized crime territory of their earlier 1990 collaboration “Goodfellas” — and then adds Al Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa. A lazier filmmaker might merely have put them back together to play their greatest hits. Scorsese does something far trickier, and more poignant: He takes all the elements we expect in a Scorsese gangster movie with this cast, and then he strips it all down, turning this story of turf wars, union battles and power struggles into a chamber piece of quiet conversations and moral contemplation. A.O. Scott called it “long and dark: long like a novel by Dostoyevsky or Dreiser, dark like a painting by Rembrandt.” (Scorsese’s “Shutter Island” and “The Departed” are also on Netflix.)

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Noah Baumbach’s searing, Bergman-esque drama is the story not of a marriage, but of its end — of a loving couple who just, as they say, grew apart, but whose uncoupling is nowhere near that organic. Their shifting of priorities and geographic preferences prompts the hiring of lawyers, the spending of savings and the stating of old resentments and regrets better left unsaid. Baumbach’s screenplay is full of tiny, human touches and graceful tonal shifts; he can move from screwball comedy to open-wound drama in the blink of an eye. “It’s funny and sad, sometimes within a single scene,” writes A.O. Scott, “and it weaves a plot out of the messy collapse of a shared reality, trying to make music out of disharmony.” (Baumbach’s “The Squid and the Whale” and Paul Dano’s “Wildlife” are similarly heartbreaking portraits of separation and divorce.)

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This vivid, evocative memory play from Alfonso Cuarón is a story of two Mexican women in the early 1970s: Sofía (Marina de Tavira), a mother of four whose husband (and provider) is on his way out the door, and Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), the family’s nanny, maid and support system. The scenes are occasionally stressful, often heart-wrenching, and they unfailingly burst with life and emotion. Our critic called it “an expansive, emotional portrait of life buffeted by violent forces, and a masterpiece.” (For more character-driven drama, check out “At Eternity’s Gate” and “The Two Popes.”)

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Sofia Coppola takes on conspicuous consumption, Millennial malaise, and upper-class entitlement in this darkly funny and stylishly thought-provoking true story (adapted from a Vanity Fair article by Nancy Joe Sales). Emma Watson leads a crew of young, attractive rich girls who spent years helping themselves to the homes (and spoils) of their famous neighbors, partying in Paris Hilton’s “nightclub room” and casually lifting Lindsay Lohan’s jewelry. Coppola refuses to condemn their crimes or apologize for them; it is, A.O. Scott wrote, “neither a cautionary tale of youth gone wrong nor a joke at the expense of kids these days.”


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Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti shine as two New York creative types whose attempts to start a family — by adoption, by fertilization, by whatever it takes — test the mettle of their relationships and sanity. The wise script by the director Tamara Jenkins is not only funny and truthful but also sharply tuned to their specific world: Few films have better captured the very public nature of marital trouble in New York, when every meltdown is interrupted by passers-by and lookie-loos. “Private Life,” which our critic called “piquant and perfect,” is a marvelous balancing act of sympathy and cynicism, both caring for its subjects and knowing them and their flaws well enough to wink and chuckle. (For more character-driven comedy/drama, add “Mystic Pizza” and “The Lovers” to your list.)

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A 52-year-old Georgian woman shocks her family, and her entire community, when she decides to move out of the cramped apartment she shares with her husband, children and parents in order to begin a life of her own. “In this world, there are no families without problems,” she is told, and the conflicts of the script by Nana Ekvtimishvili (who also directed, with Simon Gross) are a sharp reminder that while the cultural specifics may vary, familial guilt and passive aggression are bound by no language. Manohla Dargis praised its “sardonically funny, touching key.” (For more critically acclaimed foreign drama, try “Happy as Lazzaro” or “On Body and Soul.”)

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Mati Diop’s Cannes Film Festival Grand Prix winner is set in Senegal, where a young woman named Ava (Mama Sané) loses the boy she loves to the sea, just days before her arranged marriage to another man. What begins as a story of love lost moves, with the ease and imagination of a particularly satisfying dream, into something far stranger, as Diop savvily works elements of genre cinema into the fabric of a story that wouldn’t seem to accommodate them. A.O. Scott called it “a suspenseful, sensual, exciting movie, and therefore a deeply haunting one as well.”

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Jonathan Demme’s final feature film was shot on the last two nights of Justin Timberlake’s “20/20 Experience” world tour, at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. The pairing of director and subject is unexpected, but Demme is up to the job; as in his Talking Heads film “Stop Making Sense,” he deftly captures the energy, electricity and playfulness of a live concert performance, a directorial feat that is harder than it looks.


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Credit...Phillip Youmans/Array Releasing

The brief running time of Phillip Youmans’s “haunting” debut feature is, in a way, an act of mercy; it is a story of such bleakness and melancholy, of so many lives in various states of distress and despair, that to dig in longer might be more than some viewers can bear. Yet “Burning Cane” is somehow not a depressing experience; its filmmaking is so exhilarating, its performances so electrifying, its sense of time and place so deeply felt that the picture crackles and vibrates like the old blues records that inspired Youmans, who wrote as well as directed the 2019 film. That he was a teenager at the time renders his work all the more stunning; it has the kind of richness and wisdom some filmmakers spend a lifetime accumulating. (“We the Animals” is another nuanced look at life on the margins.)

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Guillermo Del Toro’s 2006 Oscar winner is many things: a lush period drama, a dark fairy tale, a special-effects showcase, a valentine to fantasy cinema, a harrowing fable of Fascism. Yet Del Toro’s filmmaking is so confident that the picture’s tone never wavers; he’s such a thrilling storyteller that we follow his protagonist (the marvelous Ivana Baquero) through every dark passageway and down every mysterious rabbit hole on her mystical journey through Franco-era Spain — and out of the clutches of her evil stepfather. It’s both scary and enchanting, terrifying and dazzling; “If this is magic realism,” writes A.O. Scott, “it is also the work of a real magician.” (Netflix is also streaming Del Toro’s luminous Gothic romance “Crimson Peak.”)

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Credit...Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

The British comedy troupe Monty Python created its funniest, wildest and cult-friendliest feature-length comedy with this 1975 sendup of the legend of King Arthur — and of medieval literature in general, and of big-screen epics. Graham Chapman is Arthur, leading his Knights of the Round Table on a quest for the Grail, but the plot is merely a clothesline on which to hang blackout sketches and self-aware gags, and there are many. Our critic called it “a marvelously particular kind of lunatic endeavor.” (For more fun with Python, queue up the button-pushing 1979 biblical spoof “Life of Brian.”)

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A marvelously absurd, stingingly satirical and unexpectedly moving story of a girl and her genetically engineered super-pig, this Netflix original from the director Bong Joon Ho is the kind of movie that goes in so many wild directions at once — urban mayhem one moment, character drama the next — it leaves you breathlessly off-balance. Bong coaxes game and unpredictable performances from his gloriously unhinged cast, with particularly juicy turns by Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal. A.O. Scott raved, “Bong juggles delight and didacticism with exquisite grace.” (For more dark social satire, queue up “The Death of Stalin.”)

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