The best movies on Netflix UK
Director: Jennie Livingston
Cast: Dorian Corey, Pepper LaBeija, Venus Xtravaganza
It's safe to say that without 'Paris is Burning' there'd be no 'RuPaul's Drag Race'. This documentary is responsible for bringing the predominantly black and Latinx drag ball scene of the late '80s and its lexicon into public consciousness. As we're introduced to the members of the multitude of 'houses' that compete in the balls, the film also asks questions about queerness, race and social class. The slight hang of melancholy gets dispelled by the fabulous outfits as the 'upcoming legendary children' walk the various categories in the balls.
Director: Alex Garland
Cast: Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Oscar Isaac
In a rare example of Hollywood sci-fi-horror thoughtfulness, 'Annihilation' has grand concepts in mind, ideas about self-destruction and rebirth. The film follows cellular biologist Lena (Portman) as she ventures to The Shimmer, an anomalous electromagnetic field, to discover the truth about what happened to her husband Kane (Isaac), who visited The Shimmer and returned in poor health and his memory missing.
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Cast: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira
In his deeply personal black and white marvel ‘Roma’, director Alfonso Cuarón dives into his Mexican boyhood with this absorbingly rich tribute to the resilient women who raised him – before expanding to gradually reveal the social and political canvas of 1970s Mexico City.
Director: Richard Linklater
Cast: Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Ellar Coltrane
Shot over 12 years with a cast of actors that ages before our eyes, Richard Linklater’s modern-day coming-of-age classic is a peerless artistic gamble. Both Arquette and Hawke turn in understated portrayals, Linklater steering them to the kind of parental wisdom that can only develop over time. Just as vividly, the kids experiment with small acts of rebellion, growing into independent thinkers. Unshakable, witty and deeply felt, the film will be paying emotional dividends for a long, long time.
Director: Ridley Scott
Cast: Susan Sarandon, Geena Davis
Leaving her husband a meal in the microwave, Thelma (Davis) sets off with her friend Louise (Sarandon) for a weekend holiday. But at their first stop, Thelma is nearly raped outside a bar; Louise shoots and kills the man. Gone is the carefree mood, and their destination is now Mexico. Along the way, the pistol-packing fugitives become ever bolder, robbing a convenience store, shooting up a leering driver's truck, and locking a cop in his car boot.
Director: Rob Reiner
Cast: Meg Ryan, Billy Crystal
This is a film where everything works: Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan’s just-this-side-of-smug central couple, the gorgeous photography of New York through the changing seasons, even Harry Connick Jr’s jazz-lite soundtrack. And it’s all rooted in Nora Ephron's flawless script.
Director: Peter Jackson
Cast: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett, Viggo Mortensen
It may lack the blood and thunder of later installments, but for us the first ‘Rings’ film remains the best: it has the most direct narrative – a road movie, essentially, from the rustic middle-English hush of the Shire to the forbidding shores of the Anduin – and the sweetest character moments, from Bilbo’s sad departure to Boromir’s sacrificial end. And that’s the reason why Jackson’s ‘Rings’ movies work: the characters are as important as the special effects. A simple tactic, perhaps, but a blindingly effective one.
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Cast: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh
Revisit arguably one of the greatest films ever made. Hitchcock’s iconic psychological horror still manages to put you on edge, even though you know exactly what’s going to happen. Doesn’t make it any less terrifying.
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem
We’re still baffled by Aronofsky’s bold, barmy and, quite frankly, brilliant psycho-horror. Its addition to Netflix, therefore, means it’s prime time for another viewing. Perhaps this time we’ll find the answers we’re looking for...
Director: Billy Wilder
Cast: Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon
It’s got transvestites, two men living happily ever after and one of the most famous last lines of any film (‘Well, nobody’s perfect’). Make no mistakes, Billy Wilder’s 1959 comedy is still perfect all these years later.
Directors Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Cast Frances McDormand, Steve Buscemi
No, not the TV show. This is the original – the Coen brothers’ masterpiece of midnight-black comedy starring Frances McDormand (who won Best Actress at the Oscars) as pregnant cop Marge. She’s investigating a triple murder in small-town Minnesota. The films’s unbeatable combination of quirky humour and noir has been copied by the TV version.
Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Harvey Keitel, Robert De Niro.
The definitive New York movie, and one of the few to successfully integrate rock music into the structure of film: watch Keitel waking to the sound of the Ronettes, or De Niro dancing solo in the street to 'Mickey's Monkey'. Mean Streets is also pure Italian-American. Scorsese directs with a breathless, head-on energy which infuses the performances, the sharp fast talk, the noise, neon and violence with a charge of adrenalin. It's one of the best American films of the decade.
Director Gus Van Sant
Cast Matt Damon, Robin Williams, Minnie Driver
Matt Damon and Ben Affleck won the Best Screenplay Oscar for this heartfelt drama about a young maths prodigy (Damon) from a working class Boston background. Robin Williams gives one of his most memorable and tender performances as Damon’s long-suffering shrink.
Director: Denzel Washington
Cast: Viola Davis, Denzel Washington
Having starred alongside each other during a 2010 Tony-award-winning revival of August Wilson’s play about the African-American experience in 1950s Pittsburgh, it’s no wonder that Viola Davis and Denzel Washington are a match made in heaven in this film adaptation. Davis, who won an Oscar for her turn as Rose Lee Maxson, is particularly thrilling, throwing herself into the role. The set-up might be fairly static, but with two world-class performances, this film is a dynamic masterpiece.
Director: Wes Anderson
Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Owen Wilson
‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ gives Ralph Fiennes a rare comic role as Monsieur Gustave, a concierge who wavers brilliantly between thug and gentleman aesthete. From Gustave’s mouth pours a head-spinning cocktail of politeness and filth as he becomes embroiled in the murder investigation and inheritance tussles that follow the death of one of his most loyal guests, the elderly Madame D (Swinton). Full of Anderson’s visual signatures – cameras that swerve, quick zooms, speedy montages – it’s familiar in style, refreshing in tone and one of Anderson’s very best films.
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes
This is a movie so painstakingly crafted, so precise in its details, that it could’ve become cold and removed, unable to fully feel the horrors it depicts. It’s proof of the sheer depth of Steven Spielberg’s empathy that that never happens: despite its visual beauty, the film is emotionally raw and still horrifyingly relevant.
Director: Terrence Malick
Cast: Richard Gere, Brooke Adams, Sam Shepard
Richard Gere and Brooke Adams take time out from life to frolic in the swaying wheatfields of the Texas Panhandle, hawkishly overseen by Sam Shepard’s tragic Jay Gatsby figure who eventually lets his suspicions get the better of him. Theirs is a tale of almost biblical profundity: a furtive love allowed to bloom momentarily in this glowing, golden paradise before commerce, responsibility, law and violence put a heartbreaking end to their innocent bliss. Visually and thematically, it’s still one of the most beautiful films ever made.
Director: Susanne Bier
Cast: Sandra Bullock, Trevante Rhodes, John Malkovich
A hyper-effective piece of genre fun or a social-media-fuelled slice of sub-'A Quiet Place' hokum? Like Marmite or a badly-conceived referendum, this Sandra Bullock post-apocalypse thriller has divided Netflixers in two. Whatever your views, it's hard to find any fault in Bullock as its blindfolded-but--badass hero, leading two wee'uns through a world of pain.
Director: Steve Spielberg
Cast: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough
Now over 25 years old, you still get a thrill when the you first see the dinosaurs in ‘Jurassic Park’. The sparingly used CGI means that the film hasn’t aged terribly, either. Instead, when blended with puppetry and animatronics, the world of Isla Nublar and John Hammond’s monstrous theme park comes alive. Genuinely exciting and the definition of a blockbuster, it doesn’t get much better, really.
Director Fernando Meirelles, Kátia Lund
Cast Alexandre Rodrigues, Leandro Firmino
This breathtaking Brazilian film knocked audiences sideways in 2002 in the way it combined the grimness of Rio de Janeiro’s slums with a slick, frenetic filmmaking style. The story tells of two boys from the same area: one grows up to be a budding photographer; the other becomes a tough drug dealer. The film was nominated for four Oscars in 2004.
Director: Norman Jewison
Cast: Cher, Nicolas Cage
Norman Jewison's Italo-American movie mainly comprises the look of things: the family table, the homely Italian restaurant, Cher, the moon over Brooklyn Bridge. Widowed Loretta (Cher), engaged to dull Johnny (Aiello), contacts his brother Ronny (Cage) to invite him to the wedding; they fall in love. Her father (Gardenia), too, is having an affair. Both adulterer and suitor seem driven to passion by depression, though Cage's hammy performance convinces less than Gardenia's glooming over his glasses. Jewison gently mocks the old ways of formal respect and sexism.
Director: Todd Haynes
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Sarah Paulson
Set in 1950s New York, this is a swooningly gorgeous romance from auteur Todd Haynes (‘Velvet Goldmine’, ‘I’m Not There‘). Cate Blanchett is Carol, a wealthy wife and mother who falls in love with a 19-year-old aspiring photographer (Rooney Mara). Everything about ‘Carol’ is exquisite.
Director: Josh and Benny Safdie
Cast: Robert Pattinson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Benny Safdie, Barkhad Abdi
This crime thriller from filmmaking brothers Benny and Josh Safdie is cocky, grubby and electric. It features Robert Pattinson on top form as Connie, a charismatic, quick-thinking chancer who we first meet extracting his mentally challenged brother Nick (Benny Safdie) from a therapy session so they can spend the morning robbing a bank. Once the Brooklyn bank job goes south, the film stays on the move, running, punching, tumbling, stumbling over 24 hours as the fallout drags us through streets, vehicles, homes, jail, a hospital, a theme park and more.
Director: Jonathan Demme
Cast: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins
When FBI trainee Clarice Starling (Foster) is sent to conduct an interview with serial killer shrink Dr Hannibal Lecter (Hopkins) in his high-security cell, she little knows what she’s in for. As their relationship blossoms, the hunt for the killer dubed Buffalo Bill continues, leading to one of the finest final acts in thriller history.
Director: Joel and Ethan Coen
Cast: James Franco, Brendan Gleeson, Zoe Kazan, Liam Neeson
Richly entertaining and blackly funny but told with sincerity and heart, the half-dozen western tales packed into ‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’ show the Coen brothers loading up their six-shooter and firing barely a dud. Inevitably, some of the stories satisfy more than others. But at roughly 20 minutes each, they’re mini-masterclasses in economy and style.
Director: Alfonso Arau
Cast: Marco Leonardi, Lumi Cavazos
Set during the Mexican revolution, this is a women's movie in that it shows the secret face of political events. Of three sisters, Gertrudis (Maille) becomes a general in the revolutionary army; Rosaura (Arizmendi) is married and has children; and the youngest, sweet-faced Tita (Cavazos), who was cheated of the chance to wed, experiences life through the disciplines of the kitchen. Recipes are milestones as the women eat, fantasise and crave. It's long, but that reflects the nature of Mexican cooking: like water for chocolate, which must be brought to the boil three times, the characters continually bubble and boil over.
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Cast: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone
Michael Keaton makes a mighty comeback as a washed-up actor attempting to reinvent himself as a proper artist. However, this isn't the super-cynical, snarky piss-take of actors it might sound like. Life is disappointing, the film explains, but it's also beautiful and, at times, unexpected. That's the power of director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s daring, funny, strangely sweet, sad and utterly brilliant New York-set comedy.
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Cast: Gary Oldman, Benedict Cumberbatch
John Le Carré is a big fan of this film adaptation of his classic spy thriller, calling it ‘edgier’ and ‘sexier’ than the classic BBC series. Gary Oldman stars as the spy boss George Smiley, hauled out of retirement to investigate a mole inside MI6. The plot cast is stupendous – in no particular order of greatness – John Hurt, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Tom Hardy, Benedict Cumberbatch, Toby Jones, Ciarán Hinds and Simon McBurney.
Director: Mike Newell
Cast: Hugh Grant, Andie MacDowell, Kristin Scott Thomas, Simon Callow
Boy meets girl. Well, actually, boy meets several girls and, um, well, things, erm, get fairly awkward. Then boy meets the girl and after much flirting, some killer gags and Hugh Grant at his most charmingly bumbling and foppish… well, you know the rest. A strong supporting cast and a tear-jerking funeral scene give it all extra heart.
Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy
Director Alejandro G Iñárritu and actor Leonardo DiCaprio both picked up Oscars for their work on this icy survival thriller about frontiersman Hugh Glass. Be warned: it’s not one to watch if you’re feeling squeamish.
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