Best movies on Netflix
Director: Curtis Hanson
Cast: Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce
Both a gorgeous throwback to ’50s Hollywood tough guys and a piercing comment on the post–Rodney King ’90s, Curtis Hanson’s tightly wound cop drama runs on the tension between L.A.’s dream-factory mechanics and the sordid reality. It’s a place where one could run into a hooker at the Formosa Cafe who looks like Lana Turner—or into the real Turner herself.
Watch if you liked: Casino
Director: Peter Jackson
Cast: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom
Hobbits and orcs and dark lords, oh my! Peter Jackson’s now-classic first installment of his J.R.R. Tolkien epic introduces the characters and sets up the story’s conflict beautifully. But just wait until you get to the next one.
Watch if you liked: Game of Thrones
Andy Stitzer (Steve Carell) is an amiable single guy who works at a big-box store. Living alone, 40-year-old Andy spends his free time playing video games and curating his action-figure collection. Despite his age, Andy has never had sex, so his friends, including the laid-back David (Paul Rudd), push Andy towards losing his virginity. While attempting to get over his awkwardness around female customers, Andy meets local shop owner Trish (Catherine Keener), and they begin a tentative romance.
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn
We all knew what Lincoln was going to be before we saw it: tub-thumping speeches, arm-waving Oscar-bait performances, soaring strings, blunt emotional manipulation. So the film itself came as something of a surprise: a quiet, thoughtful, intensely dramatic movie focusing on the minutiae of political debate rather than the grand sweep of history. Those Oscars were well deserved.
Watch if you liked: Hamilton
Director: Richard Linklater
Cast: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke
Even with all the gush spilled over Richard Linklater’s 12-years-in-the-making family saga, it still might be underpraised: In watching these actors age, learn and grow (without recourse to melodrama or suspense), viewers grasped onto a beautiful continuum that few filmmakers achieve. The wait was worth it.
Watch if you liked: The Tree of Life
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Julianne Moore, Burt Reynolds, John C. Reilly
Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread may have graced year-end top-ten lists across the board, but this sprawling tale about a genuinely “gifted” porn star (Mark Wahlberg) is where the director’s talent for big-picture storytelling first made itself apparent. It also wins the contest for the best prosthetic-cock cameo of the past few decades, hands down.
Watch if you liked: The Deuce
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Cast: Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment, Toni Collette
Let’s stretch back to a time when the name M. Night Shyamalan didn’t trigger groans, cackles or dull-eyed stares. Leaping to prominence with this expertly scripted ghost story, the director seemed to have it all: a talent for pacing and atmosphere, a Serling-esque gift for a clever twist ending (just one at this point in his career), and an easy way with actors, especially this film’s Haley Joel Osment, a rare horror Oscar nominee.
Watch if you liked: The Shining
Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen
Cast: Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind, Sari Lennick
Always dogged by the criticism of excessive caricaturing, the Coens took a leap into the unknown with this Book of Job–like reminiscence, inspired, in part, by their own ’60s Jewish boyhoods. It vibrates with humor, sadness and a scary mystique (“Accept the mystery” is a key line of dialogue).
Watch if you liked: Diner
Director: Jennifer Kent
Cast: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall
Aussie Jennifer Kent’s supremely confident feature debut already feels like a horror classic, restoring the genre to its psychological prestige while turning the monstrous-mommy gimmick on its head. Inventive, recognizably real and scary as fuck, the film staked out a shadowy domestic terrain last dominated by Roman Polanski.
Watch if you liked: Rosemary’s Baby
Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Cast: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Tarô Yamamoto
Fukasaku’s final film stars “Beat” Takeshi Kitano in a grim, futuristic tale about a fascist high-school teacher and his sadistic class experiments, designed to illustrate the Darwinian principle of survival of the fittest.
Watch if you liked: The Hunger Games
Best movies on Netflix by genre
When the laughs need to be sure-fire, cut to the chase with our select list of the best comedies on Netflix streaming
Swoon your way to lovestruck bliss (without leaving your couch) using our list of the best romantic movies on Netflix
Dive into reality from the comfort of your couch with our select list of the best documentaries on Netflix streaming
Get serious with our list of the best dramas on Netflix streaming, including Oscar winners and tough indies