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30 best movies on Netflix right now

There you are again, sitting on the couch, staring at Netflix. You're wondering whether to take a chance on that indie thing with the obscure cover art or just give in to your darker impulses and watch Face/Off for the sixth time. Life shouldn't have to be this hard, and we're here to make it just a little easier. From incredible underrated gems to timeless favorites that you haven't thought about in years, we've rounded up the best movies on Netflix right now.

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Hot Fuzz

Edgar Wright's 2007 hit Hot Fuzz is arguably the best of the "Cornetto Trilogy," which also includes Shaun of the Dead and The World's End (it's a close three-way tie, anyway). The story starts with super-cop Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg), a London policeman who's so good at his job that he's making the rest of the department look bad. To save their image, the brass reassigns him to Sandford, a sleepy little town in the English countryside where he'll be safely out of their way. Of course, it's only a matter of time before he uncovers an insidious plot hiding beneath Sandford's perfect façade, and the only way to bring the truth to light is to do what he does best: blow up everything in sight. Inspired by every action movie ever and packed with more jokes than a Mitch Hedberg special, Hot Fuzz is one of the best action comedies ever made, hands down.

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Hush

Shh…hear that? It's the sound of a smart, sexy horror thriller. With a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, 2016's Hush is definitely a movie you can't miss. The premise is simple: Maddie, a deaf/mute author, is staying in her isolated house deep in the Alabama woods when a masked killer appears at her window. While that concept could easily devolve into another run-of-the-mill suspense flick, Hush has no problem upping the thrill factor with deft camera work, unrelenting suspense, and a truly amazing performance from largely unknown actress Kate Siegel. Without saying a word, Siegel portrays Maddie as strong, capable, and intelligent, a breath of fresh air for a female role in a horror movie.

Of course, the sound design in Hush is top-notch. It has to be. Just as he manipulated our perceptions of reality with 2013's Oculus, director Mike Flanagan here uses Maddie's disability to keep the constant threat of danger looming. He never gets gimmicky with his portrayal of Maddie's deafness, giving us exactly as much as we need to feel the fear of never knowing what's behind us. It's not always what you hear, it's what you don't hear.

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Beasts Of No Nation

Beasts of No Nation is Netflix's first original feature film (they bought the distribution rights, but didn't actually finance the film) and was released simultaneously in theaters and online. Unfortunately, the resulting controversy—several large theater chains boycotted the film, saying it violated theater exclusivity—overshadowed the film itself. That's a shame, because Beasts is an amazing first choice for Netflix to break into original films.

Starring Idris Elba (Prometheus, Thor) as a ruthless commander and newcomer Abraham Attah as the boy soldier Agu, Beasts of No Nation is powerful, shockingly real, and heartbreaking in its portrayal of the unspeakable horrors of war. It's not an easy film to watch—the pace is relentless, the imagery visceral. But it's a film you should watch, if only for a brief glimpse into the struggle of daily life in war torn Africa.

The country in the film is never defined, although the story could presumably fall into any of the African nations embroiled in turf wars. It was filmed in Ghana, and director Cary Joji Fukunaga spent years researching the conflict in Sierra Leone before finally settling on the 2005 novel as the source material for his film.

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The Wailing

Equal parts drama, psychological horror, and supernatural thriller, The Wailing sounds like a winner out of the gates, but here's the rub: you've kinda gotta stick with it for the first half hour. It starts out fairly slow—but then again, so do spaceships. And once it picks up speed, The Wailing never stops to take a breath. In a quiet South Korean village, a mysterious disease leads to an outbreak of violent behavior among the residents. When his daughter starts showing symptoms, a bumbling police officer digs deeper into the plague and stumbles into a battle between good and evil that threatens to tear the village to pieces. Beautifully shot, terrifying at times, and scientific proof that Korean exorcisms are way cooler than ours, The Wailing should be on every horror fan's watch list.

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The Hateful Eight

Quentin Tarantino's eighth film needs little introduction. In the aftermath of the Civil War, eight people get snowed in at a roadside pitstop, and as the title asserts, none of them are particularly savory characters. There's a lot of talking, a lot of bloodshed, and a lot of Tarantino-ness all around. Perhaps too much, according to some critics. With a 74 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, The Hateful Eight is one of Tarantino's worst-reviewed films.

As a Western, sure, The Hateful Eight is no Fistful of Dollars. But as Nerdist very effectively argues, it's not a Western at all—it's a horror movie. For starters, as Tarantino himself explained, it was most directly inspired by John Carpenter's 1982 body horror film The Thing. The pieces are there—the icy landscape, the claustrophobic setting, people trapped in close quarters by a raging blizzard, and the undercurrent of someone in the group who isn't what they seem. Also, Kurt Russell. On top of that, the musical score includes Ennio Morricone tracks from The Exorcist II and The Thing, deliberately adding to the sense that monsters are lurking, even if they turn out to be human after all.

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The Truman Show

Before 1998, Jim Carrey was just a man of many zany characters. He was Ace Ventura, the Mask, and Lloyd Christmas, a loveable goof whose extreme comedy style could both entertain and alienate, depending on the audience. Then came The Truman Show, and all those oddball layers were stripped away to reveal a serious actor who could be both silly and sincere.

In The Truman Show, Carrey stars as Truman Burbank, a quiet, everyday guy who just so happens to be the star of the world's largest reality show. The catch? Truman doesn't know he's on a show. Since birth, every moment of his life has been filmed and broadcast to the world. All his neighbors and friends — even his wife — are actors in the show. He's never left his hometown, because his hometown is a giant film set inside a dome.

Over the course of the movie, Jim Carrey shows the first inklings of the remarkable depth that he'd later plumb for other serious roles like Man on the Moon and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Couple that with beautiful direction and a heartfelt story, and The Truman Show is easily one of the best movies of the late '90s, and one of the best on Netflix right now.

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Black Panther

During the '90s, Wesley Snipes tried like crazy to get a big-screen version of Marvel's Black Panther into production. For a myriad of reasons, it never quite came together — which turned out to be a good thing, because it allowed Snipes to bring his version of Blade to theaters instead. A couple of extra decades also allowed CGI technology to advance enough to bring the radical, tech-centric world of Wakanda to life. That's just what director Ryan Coogler accomplishes in Black Panther, delivering a vividly realized vision of the fictional nation that appears advanced beyond our wildest dreams, but also feels like human beings actually live there. 

Of course, the high-tech world-building is only part of the fun in Black Panther. Coogler also ingeniously uses the setting as a plot device in a Shakespearean tale of palace politics, tribal traditions, and ideological conflicts. That he populates that narrative with richly developed characters (both heroes and villains) and propels it forward with some of the most electrifying action sequences the MCU has ever seen (the casino scene is a legit all-time great) is what makes the film so much fun to watch. That he also delivers a politically subversive film along the way is what may qualify Black Panther as the best Marvel movie to date.

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Brick

There was genuine excitement when Rian Johnson was announced as the director of the middle film in the new Star Wars trilogy. To the surprise of many, the Looper filmmaker wound up delivering the most divisive film in the Star Wars universe, but however you feel about The Last Jedi, it's hard to deny that it's a refreshingly original take on the saga that was crafted with skill, ingenuity, and passion. If you'd been following Johnson's career, you expected nothing less. The director had, after all, been pushing the limits of genre filmmaking since making his feature debut.

For the uninitiated, that debut came in the guise of a slick little neo-noir by the name of Brick. Essentially a Sam Spade detective tale set in a high school, the film is driven by crackling dialogue, superbly drawn characters, an astonishingly complex/intelligent narrative, and a captivating performance from Joseph Gordon-Levitt. From its riveting opening to its heartbreaking finale, this audacious, often hilarious tale of high schoolers running amok never hits a false note. It gets into your head and refuses to leave — the sort of film that makes you wish you could always be watching it for the first time. Count yourself lucky if you get to experience it that way now. Otherwise, relish the chance to revisit the shifty, noir-drenched delight that is Brick.

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The Witch

With new classics hitting theaters or streaming platforms almost every week, genre fans are experiencing what appears to be a full-on horror renaissance — and Robert Eggers' haunting, New England-set folktale The Witch is one of the films that helped set the bar for current horror trends. Eggers' masterfully executed chiller wowed audiences at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, and actually made a few bucks in its initial theatrical release, even if it didn't exactly set the box office on fire. It didn't fare quite as well when the folks at A24 cleverly re-released the film on 666 screens a couple of months later.

Behind marvelous critical buzz and equally solid word of mouth, The Witch has more than found its audience after the fact, with many hailing it as the one of the best horror films of the decade. We're inclined to agree. Eggers' film follows a 17th century family whose devoutly puritanical existence falls apart under the weight of unspeakable tragedies, which may or may not be the cause of an evil lurking in a nearby forest and a demon spirit inhabiting the family goat. That last bit may sound silly, but there's nothing to scoff at in The Witch. Eggers' film is a bleak, intensely atmospheric study in gothic Americana that features a star-making turn from Ana Taylor-Joy. It's the sort of film that you simply have to see to believe. And if you haven't, well, prepare thyself to live deliciously.

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Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

In the pantheon of video game movies, there have been far more misses than hits. There was a time when the same could've been said about graphic novel adaptations as well. That Scott Pilgrim vs. The World arrived in theaters as both a video game flick and a graphic novel adaptation was reason enough to get excited about it in 2010. That the film was also directed by Edgar Wright — then a burgeoning cult icon hot off the success of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz — was reason to be downright impatient for the film.

Wright delivered the goods with Pilgrim, crafting an action-packed, genre-busting romantic comedy with enough razor-sharp wit and eight-bit charm to claim success on both the video game and adaptation fronts. It also featured a hip young cast including Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth WInstead, Kieran Culkin, Anna Kendrick, Aubrey Plaza, and Jason Schwartzman, not to mention scene-stealing appearances from future MCU stars Chris Evans and Brie Larson. With that pedigree (and reviews to match), Scott Pilgrim vs. The World seemed destined for box office glory. That didn't happen. In fact, the film was an outright bomb that seemed doomed to claim little more than "cult classic" status. Luckily, Wright's hipster opus found second life on video, and is now counted amongst the director's best work. If you've been sleeping on that fact, now's the time to get into the game.

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Her

One of the primary functions of cinema is to act as a sort of mirror image of the real world. In the case of science fiction cinema, the scope of that mirroring seeks to show not just the world as is, but the world as it may become. If Spike Jonze's wildly romantic, Oscar-winning sci-fi drama Her is any indication, artificial intelligence is going to complicate our lives in ways we cannot yet fathom — and probably sooner than we think. 

Set in a vividly realized, not-too-distant future, Her follows a kind, lonely man who finds love in a most unexpected place — with an AI-driven operating system named Samantha. On paper, that plot sounds a bit ridiculous, and in the hands of a lesser filmmaker, it probably would've been. With Jonze at the helm, Her's potentially silly setup becomes a tenderly observed study of longing for and finding connection in a tech-obsessed world driven to isolationism. 

At the center of that world is a transcendent performance from Joaquin Phoenix, who brings a warmth, wit, and compassion to this role barely glimpsed in his prior work — not to mention a scene-stealing turn from Amy Adams and dynamic voice work from Scarlett Johansson, who makes a fully developed character of her artificial persona. As a sci-fi film, Her is a towering, deeply personal achievement in style and substance. As a social document, it's an all-too-prescient reflection on the world as it likely will be. If you don't believe that, just ask Alexa what she thinks.

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The Endless

In 2015, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead teamed up to deliver a wildly innovative, Lovecraftian romance about a young man falling in love with a mysterious woman while traveling in Europe. It was called Spring, and despite scoring well with critics — who lauded its genre-bending ambition — not many people actually saw it. Those who did likely discovered Spring on Netflix, where the film eventually garnered its well-deserved "cult classic" status. 

Fans of that film were quick to hail Benson and Moorhead as filmmakers to watch, anxiously awaiting the duo's next innovative offering. It arrived in The Endless, another critically acclaimed, mind-bending genre mashup that finds Benson and Moorhead following a similarly grounded, slow-burning dramatic approach to horror/sci-fi tropes while expanding their cinematic palette in ways their genre peers have yet to dare.  

This go-round, Benson and Moorhead spin a complex tale of two brothers who make the fateful decision to revisit the "alien death cult" they managed to escape in their youth. That's all the synopsis you're gonna get from us, because part of The Endless' narrative magic is uncovering the film's unnerving existential mysteries for yourself. Just know that whatever you think you know as the film untangles its intricately woven web, you're probably wrong. That's a good thing, by the way — and further proof that The Endless is almost certain to cement Benson and Moorhead as two of the most daring genre/cult filmmakers of this generation.

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Win It All

Some filmmakers revel in the bombast of Hollywood, but over the years, indie auteur Joe Swanberg has eschewed those stupefying reveries in service of crafting incisive micro-budget features of all genres, winning a fiercely loyal fanbase along the way. Those fans helped make Swanberg's work — Drinking Buddies, Happy Christmas, and Digging for Fire surprising hits on Netflix. It seemed natural, then, that the streaming giant would invest in Swanberg's vision. They did so by producing his mostly marvelous anthology series Easy, then went all in by greenlighting Swanberg's latest feature, Win It All.

Netflix's filmmaker-friendly approach proved an excellent match for Swanberg's fiercely independent style. Win It All finds the director re-teaming with Jake Johnson to deliver the tragi-hilarious tale of Eddie Garrett, a charismatic Chicagoan with a crippling gambling addiction. Eddie's unstable existence is completely upended when a pal entrusts him with a duffel bag full of cash before serving a lengthy prison sentence.

That's the last thing you'd want to hand over to a gambling addict, of course, and what follows is a cringe-worthy, if often hilarious, spiral into addiction madness that plays out about the way you'd think (i.e. the money is lost and must be won back). Like the best of Swanberg's films, he tempers the madness by focusing the film's narrative on the human that drives it. In turn, Win It All proves itself insightful, irreverent, romantic, and laugh-out-loud funny.  

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Heat

In 1974, cinema fans grew giddy when Francis Ford Coppola announced Robert De Niro and Al Pacino — already established as two of the greatest actors of their generation — would star in his epic sequel to The Godfather. To the chagrin of many, dual narratives set in separate timelines kept the lauded duo from sharing a single second of screen time in The Godfather: Part II

Another 20 years passed before they appeared in another film together. They did so at the behest of another iconic director in Michael Mann, who finally let the screen titans square off in his epic crime saga Heat. The moment was worth the wait, with each actor bringing decades worth of cool confidence and fiery intelligence to Mann's thriller about cops and robbers going toe to toe in Los Angeles.  

If De Niro and Pacino's smoldering face-off were the only intriguing element of Heat it still would've been worth the wait, but it's not even the best scene in a movie that also features stellar work from Val Kilmer, Amy Brenneman, Tom Sizemore, and Ashley Judd. That moment comes about three quarters of the way through Heat, in the guise of heist gone wrong and a daring getaway through the streets of L.A. It's one of the most thrilling and ingeniously executed shootouts ever committed to film, and it's a big reason Heat is considered one of the best crime films ever made.

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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Michel Gondry spent much of the 1990s and early 2000s bringing a visually arresting, charmingly D.I.Y. aesthetic to music videos for the biggest names in pop music (Björk, Radiohead, Beck, and The White Stripes among them). With each music-fueled experiment, Gondry grew bolder and more confident as a director, making a jump into narrative filmmaking all but inevitable. The irascible auteur finally dipped his toe into Hollywood waters with the Charlie Kaufman-scripted comedy Human Nature, a film that sadly proved even visionary filmmakers often get it wrong the first time out. 

In spite of Human Nature's issues, Gondry and Kaufman re-teamed for 2006's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Equal parts quirky sci-fi farce and heartfelt romantic drama, the film follows a man (a never better Jim Carrey) and woman (an Oscar-nominated Kate Winslet) who each have memories of their relationship scientifically removed from their brain after a rocky breakup. 

Sounds silly, right? In lesser hands, it probably would be. With Gondry and Kaufman guiding the narrative, Eternal Sunshine instead plays out as a near-flawless mix of genres that seamlessly blends Gondry's lo-fi craftsmanship with Kaufman's grounded, devastatingly insightful romantic fable. Anchored by powerful lead performances (and bolstered by spot-on supporting work from Mark Ruffalo, Kirsten Dunst, Elijah Wood, and Tom Wilkinson), Eternal Sunshine is a bold, funny, endlessly creative little film that manages to be wildly romantic and anti-romantic in equal measure, and somehow satisfies emotionally on both fronts.

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Enemy

Netflix has long been a haven for independent cinema. More often than not, it's the primary source for indie movie lovers to discover lesser known films and filmmakers. Netflix recently doubled down on that legacy by adding almost the entire slate of films produced by indie powerhouse A24, including gems like Ex Machina, Green Room, and Under the Skin.

One of the more unsung films in the A24 lineup is Denis Villeneuve's harrowing mindbender of a thriller Enemy. Based on a novel from subversive Portuguese scribe Jose Saramago, and starring Jake Gyllenhaal in a revelatory dual performance, the film follows a quiet man who unwittingly finds his doppelgänger and proceeds to have a full-blown crisis of identity. Along the way, the pair's lives become a tangled web of secrets, obsessions, and lust that threatens to upend each of their existences.

Just FYI, those lives are upended in ways we can't even begin to cover in a simple blurb. Enemy is an artistically and narratively ambitious film worthy of the sort of in-depth examination typically reserved for great works of literature, and Villeneuve utilizes the film's setup to craft one of the most hauntingly ambiguous thrillers you'll ever see, with a bold blend of stark visuals and a near-suffocating sense of atmospheric dread. Enemy is a vividly realized, surprisingly satisfying art film that you'll never be able to unsee — especially if you're afraid of spiders.

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Seven

It's hard to believe that over 20 years have passed since David Fincher terrorized the moviegoing public with this brutalist tale of twisted biblical morality run amok, but somehow, the decades haven't dulled the soul-crushing impact of Fincher's corrosively alluring detective tale. In fact, Seven may be even more disturbing today than it was when it hit theaters in 1995. 

For those who have yet to experience this intensely unnerving, unholy masterpiece, the film follows a rookie detective and his veteran partner (Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman, respectively) on the hunt for a vicious serial killer who's using the seven deadly sins for motive. As you might expect from that setup, the murders themselves figure prominently in Seven's nightmarish narrative, so before you press play, please note that this film is not for the weak of heart.

If you're still on board, then get ready to have a few nightmares of your own, 'cause Seven is the sort of movie that seeps into your skin and never really scrubs clean. That's generally a good thing, because as difficult as Fincher's film can be to sit through, it's an exquisitely executed, genuinely unsettling crime thriller crafted with undeniable skill and uncompromising vision. It's also a first-rate slice of noir-tinged detective fiction that giddily dices up the official "cop film" playbook, packs it in a box, and… well, the less said about that, the better.

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The Lobster

The Lobster is without a doubt one of the weirdest movies ever made. Period. It's such an oddly unsettling movie that you'll likely be concerned for the overall mental state of every single person involved. It's also one of the funniest, most emotionally devastating movies you'll ever see about people desperately searching for love in hopes of avoiding being turned into an animal.

No, you did not misread that synopsis. The Lobster really does unfold in a dystopian near future where single people are rounded up and given 45 days to find true love or be turned into an animal of their choosing and released into the wild alone.

Again, The Lobster is one of the weirdest movies ever made — and a cinematic experience unlike any other. Here's all you really need to know going in: Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz (who both deliver career-redefining performances) are in it, that the film is funny as hell, but that its sense of humor is drier than the Sahara, and that The Lobster is one of the more surprisingly humane and romantic films produced in the past decade, though it often feels devoid of romance or humanity. Enjoy!

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The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Since breaking into Hollywood with 1984's remarkably assured debut Blood Simple, the Coen brothers (a.k.a. Joel and Ethan) have gone on to produce a near-unimpeachable body of work that's found them working as easily in slapsticky farce and romantic comedy as in the crime, western, and musical genres. Whatever story they choose to tell, you can be certain of one thing — the Coens are always going to push to do something they haven't done before. Though it features all the staples of a Coens movie (i.e. brutal/hilarious outbursts of violence, schticky genre setups, crackling dialogue, and stark human drama), their Western anthology The Ballad of Buster Scruggs finds the Coens pushing themselves farther than ever.  

Of course, the thing that most obviously sets The Ballad of Buster Scruggs apart from the rest of their films is that it is, in fact, an anthology (comprised of six short tales of the wild west) and not a single, straightforward narrative. Those six tales are thrilling, and hilarious, and frequently downright heartbreaking. They feature stellar work from an all-star cast including Tim Blake Nelson, Zoe Kazan, James Franco, Tom Waits, and Liam Neeson. And they're each fueled by the sort of mirthful madness only Joel and Ethan Coen can conjure. Coupled with Bruno Delbonnel's jaw-dropping digital cinematography and pitch-perfect Western themes from composer Carter Burwell, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is easily one of the best movies Netflix has ever produced, if not one of 2018's best films.

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Obvious Child

Jenny Slate would probably tell you 2009 was a big year for her. It did, after all, see her land gigs on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, Saturday Night Live, and HBO's egregiously underrated comedy series Bored to Death. It was also the year she met an up-and-coming filmmaker by the name of Gillian Robespierre, who cast her in a charming short film by the name of Obvious Child. That short would eventually become the feature film that served as Slate's breakthrough role five years later.

Initially dubbed a "romantic comedy about abortion," Obvious Child actually does follow a twenty-something comedian who finds herself unexpectedly with child, and decides to terminate the pregnancy. So yes, on the surface Obvious Child is a romantic comedy about abortion, but it's more a story about a young woman coming to terms with the realities of being independent in a world that requires independent women to make complicated life choices about work, and family, and healthcare, and sex, and love, and yes, sometimes about an unplanned pregnancy.

While it's wildly romantic, often surprisingly dramatic, and always deeply insightful, Obvious Child is first and foremost a comedy. As such, every aspect of this woman's perpetually complicated life serves as fodder for her standup act, which Slate delivers with an increasingly confessional air that teeters gingerly between caustic hilarity and flustered humility. So too does Obvious Child, with Slate and company ultimately delivering unto the world the abortion rom-com it never knew it needed.

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Quiz Show

With the release of the criminally underrated The Old Man and The Gun, 2018 may or may not have brought an official end to Robert Redford's nearly six-decade acting career. It also saw the actor delivering a performance with enough charm, wit, and pathos to rank among his finest. If The Old Man and The Gun remains Redford's swan song in front of the camera, retirement should offer him a little more time in the director's chair.

That's a good thing, because Redford's work behind the camera has often been as thrilling as his work in front, even earning him an Academy Award for 1981's Ordinary People. In the years since winning that Oscar, Redford has remained choosy with his directorial efforts, directing only nine movies since. 

Of those films, 1994's Quiz Show is arguably his best work. Set in the '50s, and based on a true story, the film follows a working-class man and a member of one of America's most prominent families as they face off on the hit tv quiz show Twenty-One — which was infamously/illegally rigged by the show's producers, and eventually exposed by an idealistic government attorney. That may not sound like the blueprint for a thrilling, character-driven biographical drama about corruption and classism in America, but that's just what Redford delivered in Quiz Show. Like the story it so elegantly explores, Quiz Show is almost too intriguing to believe, and remains one of the best films of the '90s.

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Moon

Filmmakers tend to fall flat on their faces when they make their first movie. There are, however, exceptions to that rule, and Duncan Jones is one of the few directors who more than delivered the goods with his feature film debut. Titled simply Moon, that feature is not just a staggeringly assured first outing, it's also one of the best sci-fi films produced in the 21st century. 

Set almost entirely on the lunar surface, the film follows a contract worker by the name of Sam Bell (played by the inimitable Sam Rockwell) who's spent the duration of his three-year contract in near-total isolation harvesting helium-3, and shipping it back to Earth for consumption. On the cusp of fulfilling his obligations to Lunar Industries, and heading home to see his wife and daughter, Sam's intensely isolated existence takes a surprising turn when he finds himself the victim of a near-fatal mining accident.  

For the sake of first-time viewers, that twist will remain a mystery, but you should know that it requires Rockwell's performance to fracture in unimaginably challenging ways. You should also know that Rockwell is more than up to the task, delivering densely layered work that turns what's essentially a one-man show into a complex, heartbreaking character study in the psychiatry of self, solitude, and science run amok. One that Jones (behind breathtakingly minimalist contributions from composer Clint Mansell) posits within a stark, stylized little film that simply must be seen to be believed.  

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Pan's Labyrinth

Some movies aim to dazzle the eye, others to touch the heart, or to move the mind. The best films do all of those things at once, and Guillermo del Toro has essentially specialized in making movies that do exactly that. He's done so by deftly blending elements of fantasy, science fiction, and horror into vividly realized, deeply personal narratives about outcasts trying to find their place in often cruel, unforgiving worlds.   

Of the director's 10 features, few feel more personal or prescient than his 2006 masterpiece Pan's Labyrinth. As with his criminally overlooked The Devil's BackbonePan's Labyrinth unfolds against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War, with a fascist regime facing off against freedom fighters. Hoping to evade the violence, bookish pre-teen Ofelia and her mother are whisked off to an isolated estate by Mom's new hubby, a nefarious fascist commander. Along the way, she meets a fairy that takes her to a centuries-old faun, a mythical creature who informs Ofelia she's a princess, and can claim her throne (along side her deceased father) only if she survives three harrowing feats of bravery.

Clearly there's a lot going on in Pan's Labyrinth, but del Toro handles the pitch-black narrative with the dexterous hand of a novelist, pulling inspired performances from his cast, conjuring images as thrilling as they are terrifying, and finding untold depths of beauty within devastatingly realistic/fantastical landscapes — thus making a film that dazzles the eye, touches the heart, and moves the mind in ways most movies cannot fathom.

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Punch-Drunk Love

After breaking out with the dramatic one-two punch of Hard Eight and Boogie Nights, Paul Thomas Anderson was hailed as one of the most exciting voices in indie cinema. So striking were his first two movies that New Line Cinema essentially gave him free rein to make his third movie, Magnolia. He responded with a sprawling, three hour-plus arthouse drama about intertwined lives in the San Fernando Valley. While Magnolia was well received, Anderson's artful opus barely turned a profit.

Rather than brood over Magnolia, Anderson simplified matters for his followup, setting out to make — of all things — a 90-minute rom-com featuring professional man-child Adam Sandler. What he delivered is an intensely amorous fable about a kind, emotionally unstable man who's prone to outbursts of violence, is harassed by operatives of a nefarious phone sex company, buys a bunch of discount pudding, and falls in love with a beautiful, deeply compassionate woman who never flees the obvious insanity.

Clearly, Punch-Drunk Love is anything but simple. But it's really funny (in a decidedly un-Sandler sort of way), it's romantic as hell (in a decidedly Anderson sort of way), and at 95 minutes, it's the shortest film the director has ever made. It's also a colorful, artistically ambitious rom-com that seamlessly blends a brash, often violent, and unapologetically oddball romantic narrative with the whimsical energy of a classic MGM musical. Fifteen years after release, Punch-Drunk Love remains one of the most daring films in Anderson's esteemed oeuvre, and still features arguably the finest performance of Adam Sandler's career.

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Personal Shopper

She's fronted a tentpole franchise and appeared in low-key indie fare. She's earned a standing ovation at Cannes, and seen her life become the stuff of salacious tabloid fodder. Though she's still young, Kristen Stewart has seen and done it all in the movie business. Somehow, she's still finding ways to evolve as a performer, frequently scaling back her celebrity to take bold creative risks in intensely personal cinematic fare. That desire to take risks is what caught the eye of French auteur Olivier Assayas, who wrote Stewart the role of her life for his heartrending 2016 supernatural drama Personal Shopper — and nothing could quite prepare you for what the gifted actor and Assayas conjured.  

In case you skipped Assayas' eerily muted masterpiece in theaters, the film follows a listless young personal shopper who refuses to leave Paris until she makes contact with her twin brother… who died in the city months earlier. To complicate matters, she's started receiving mysterious text messages that may or may not be from the beyond. Assayas bolsters the moody vibes in Personal Shopper with a subtle, slow burn approach that allows Stewart to guide viewers through a masterfully executed maze of physical, emotional, and supernatural entanglements. All of which helps this engrossing spiritual story about loss and grief ensnare, confound, and satisfy.

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Green Room

Some movies set out to challenge your mind or move your soul. Others kick in the doors to your head and heart with red-laced combat boots, seeking solely to wreak unholy havoc on your very being. Jeremy Saulnier's propulsive punk rock thriller Green Room does the latter with the tale of a down-and-out hardcore band caught in a deadly standoff with a nasty sect of skinheads (led by a never-better Patrick Stewart).  

If only to maintain the crushing emotional impact of the film's narrative twists and unyieldingly vicious acts of violence, we'll say no more of the plot. We should, however, tell you that Green Room is out to deliver maximum shock value, and it wholly succeeds in delivering with its heady blend of savage bloodletting and punk fury. Still, viewers may be shocked to find that Saulnier's film succeeds most in its quieter moments; those uncertain times when plans are hatched, confessions made, and final breaths taken.

The body count runs high in Green Room, with Saulnier taking obvious pleasure in finding brutal/heartbreaking new ways to thin the herd. In spite of the film's brazen wealth of filth and fury, Green Room's audacious insight allows it to challenge your mind and move your soul in ways you simply cannot foresee — even if it does so with the subtlety of a Dead Kennedys cover.

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Roma

It's easy to forget now (as they seemingly release a dozen new movies every week), but Netflix has only been in the business of producing original films for a few years. They began their cinematic journey in 2015 with what they hoped would be an awards season contender in their harrowing and heartbreaking child soldier drama Beasts of No Nation, and the ensuing years have seen the streaming giant working with some of the biggest names in movies; not surprisingly, their awards season presence has grown exponentially. Netflix broke through in 2018 with a foreign language film that earned a staggering 10 Oscar nominations, emerging as an early frontrunner to win Best Picture.

That breakthrough came when they greenlighted an intensely personal passion project from cinematic visionary Alfonso Cuarón, titled simply Roma (after the Mexico City neighborhood he was raised in). Not only did Cuarón write, direct, produce, and shoot Roma (in glorious black and white), the film's yearlong study of a maid caring for a middle-class family amid the politically turbulent 1970s is culled from the director's own memories of his youth. It unfolds less as a straightforward narrative than a vivid collection of moments, each viewed through fractured lens of time and memory. Through that lens Cuarón delivers a hushed, deeply emotional cinematic journey of an unconventional family in transition; this is one journey you'll not soon forget.

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District 9

Pretty much every filmmaker got their start in short films. As such, most also keep a sharp eye on that world in hopes of finding/fostering new cinematic talents. Peter Jackson is just such a filmmaker, and he was savvy enough to reach out to a South American filmmaker named Neil Blomkamp after stumbling upon the director's fantastically stylized sci-fi confections in 2005. 

The short that caught Jackson's eye was a visceral, documentary-style thriller about the sociopolitical impact of an alien population becoming stranded in the former land of apartheid. Called Alive in Joburg, its compelling mix of style and intellect so impressed Jackson that he offered the inexperienced Blomkamp $30 million to make any film he wanted. Of course, the film Blomkamp wanted to make was a feature-length version of the short that caught Jackson's eye to begin with.

Titled District 9, that film hit theaters under a cloud of mystery, was fronted by a then-unknown actor in Sharlto Copley, and boasted no built-in audience. Against those odds, the film's kinetic storytelling, inventive narrative, staggering visuals, and pointed take on refugee politics scored big with critics and audiences alike, making an overnight "it" director of Blomkamp and shocking Hollywood to the tune of four Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture. In case you're wondering, District 9 is every bit the modern sci-fi masterpiece today it was in 2009, and its politics are every bit as important.

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Serenity

You wouldn't know it to talk to fans of Joss Whedon's beloved but short-lived sci-fi western TV series Firefly, but close to 20 years have passed since the show aired its final episode. That means almost 15 have come and gone since Whedon revived the beloved crew of Serenity for for the big-screen chapter of their story. Even after all that time, the fervid fanbase that helped make both Firefly and Serenity (and the continuing series of graphic novels based on both) bona fide cult sensations have continued to keep their brown coats shiny and prove that you really can't stop the signal.

Don't worry if you're a late-to-the-party Joss Whedon fan who didn't understand any of the references we just made, because Serenity is now streaming on Netflix. That means there's no better time than the present for one and all to follow Mal and his mischievous band of miscreants into the black and back for an adventure chock full of all the colorful characters, crackerjack dialogue, and vividly realized worlds you'd expect from Whedon. It also sees the writer/director crafting a narrative broad enough to welcome folks unfamiliar with the film's source material, but cagey enough to satisfy envy the staunchest of Browncoats — even if he sort of breaks our hearts along the way. All of which makes Serenity not just one of Whedon's finest works as a writer, but possibly his most complete big-screen confection.

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Winter's Bone

Today, Jennifer Lawrence is one of the most beloved and recognizable stars in Hollywood. A mere decade ago, that was not the case. In fact, prior to 2010, you would've been hard pressed to find anyone at all who knew her name. If you're at all familiar with Lawrence's meteoric rise to legit superstardom, you know the ascension began when she landed the lead in Debra Granik's gritty, near-flawless micro-budget drama Winter's Bone.

If you're not, well, we're gonna go ahead and question your J-Law fandom, because as good as she's been in much of her work since, the actor's performance in Winter's Bone remains her best. While Lawrence's raw talent is full on display throughout this absolute diamond of a film, it's all in service of the vision of Debra Granik, who cast the actor against type as a dirt poor, tough-as-nails Ozark teen desperate to find her missing, meth-dealing father.

In order to find the missing man, she's forced to dive headlong down a rabbit hole full of nefarious, backwoods-dwelling characters who value their community's strict code of silence above all else. Chief among them is her enigmatic, addicted Uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes in one of the best supporting performances ever committed to film), who's harboring some serious ill will toward his missing brother. To say any more would be to take the sting right out of this brutal, beautifully brooding little drama, and this is one mystery whose secrets are worth discovering (or rediscovering) for yourself.