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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.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

After The Amazing Spider-Man 2 effectively killed a franchise as we knew it, it came as a bit of a shock when Sony Pictures announced — after agreeing to share the rights to the web-slinging one with Marvel — they'd be moving forward with a new Spider-Man project. That task seemed all the more daunting when Spider-Man: Homecoming arrived like the John Hughes Spider-flick we didn't know we needed. 

To the shock of many, Sony's animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was about to prove the universe (nay, multi-verse) was vast enough for alternate Spider-Men, and even big enough for a half a dozen others. Into the Spider-Verse also breathed welcome life into both the rapidly tiring superhero genre and the stagnating medium of feature animation.

That life arrived via street smart teen Miles Morales, who — after inadvertently gaining "spidery" abilities — seeks to replace the recently deceased Spider-Man of his world, only to discover that there are several Spider-Folk spread across multiple dimensions, and that a singular threat is about to disrupt each of their realities. If that synopsis makes your head hurt, please know that matters become much clearer throughout Into the Spider-Verse. Know as well that said story (suffused with equal parts drama, comedy, and soul) unfolds in an electrifying visual style designed to literally bring comic book pages to life. That hearty combination of style and substance makes Into the Spider-Verse unlike any superhero flick you've seen of late.

Moonlight

Over the past decade, A24 Films has transformed itself from the little indie studio that could into a bonafide powerhouse that regularly challenges big-time studios for box office supremacy and awards season glory. They've done so by continuing to release a near-immaculate slate of films that vary from high-minded genre fare (The Witch, Under the Skin, Midsommar, High Life) to complex human dramas and comedies (The Lobster, Lady Bird, Good Time, The Souvenir). 

In a "grand scheme" sort of way, 2016 was the year A24 became a legit player in the Hollywood landscape. That was the year the studio released the sophomore film from a then all but unheard of filmmaker by the name of Barry Jenkins. The film was, of course, Jenkins' heartfelt and harrowing coming-of-age drama Moonlight, a film that cleaned up at the box office, blew the critics away, and stormed the Oscars by claiming three Academy Awards, including that infamous Best Picture win.     

We're not gonna waste much of your time bestowing more praise on Moonlight here. That's mostly because so much has already been said about the film's dramatic virtue and artistic integrity, there's not much we can add. But just for the record, with its pitch-perfect performances, stylistic mix of hauntingly naturalistic and boldly expressionistic photography, and its awe-inspiring original score, Moonlight is every bit the immaculately executed human drama you've likely heard. If you've yet to experience it for yourself, there's really no time like the present to bask in the lush, lavish glow of Moonlight

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.

Now Netflix viewers also have the added option of watching The Hateful Eight as an extended miniseries — broken into four episodes, with at least 25 minutes of new footage spliced in. "Some sequences are more similar than others compared to the film, but it has a different feeling," said Tarantino. "It has a different feeling that I actually really like a lot."

Hellboy

In case you didn't notice — and judging from the film's anemic box office take, not many of you did — that David Harbour-starring reboot of Hellboy didn't exactly light a fire in the hearts of moviegoers. Truth be told, the movie wasn't great. But it wasn't all that bad either, and Harbour was actually pretty good in the role. The bigger problem with the Hellboy reboot is that Harbour is not Ron Perlman, Neil Marshall (who directed) is not Guillermo del Toro, and fans were really just not ready to move on from that pairing's take on the beloved comic book creation.

There's good reason for that. Released on a largely unsuspecting public in 2004 (4 years ahead of the MCU superhero boon, and sandwiched between Del Toro's Blade II and Pan's Labyrinth), Hellboy is a near-flawless distillation of everything that made Mike Mignola's comics such a delight to thumb through. In short, the film is action-packed, but never short on character. It deals in steampunk insanity and historical revisionism, but always keeps its feet firmly planted in the "real" world. It's silly, and sappy, and unabashedly sweet. And it's often creepy as all hell.

That's as much as anyone could rightfully expect of a film about a cat-loving demon conjured to bring about the apocalypse, but who ends up fighting evil (and fate) instead. 15 years after its release, Hellboy still packs one hell of a wallop. And it remains a touchstone movie in helping shape the superhero genre as we've come to know it.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Taxi Driver

With over four decades of movies and accolades behind him, Martin Scorsese might easily lay claim to being the most lauded filmmaker that's ever lived, if not also one of the most influential. Back in 1976, however, Scorsese was still a brash young director who — on the strength of the gritty, dramatic one-two punch of Mean Streets and Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore — had more than earned the title of "up-and-comer." Taxi Driver is the film that formally announced Scorsese's arrival, positing the director as both a radical cinematic stylist and the voice of cinema to come.

Just FYI, Taxi Driver also announced Robert De Niro as a once-in-a-generation acting talent, saw a baby-faced Jodie Foster step firmly into the spotlight as a tragic teenage prostitute, and posited now legendary scribe Paul Schrader as one of the premiere writers in film. Oh, and it also proved a hit with critics, scored respectable numbers at the box office, and earned a handful of Oscar nominations to boot. 

Today, Taxi Driver is considered one of the most important films ever produced. And yes, Scorsese's caustic tale of an unstable veteran with violent tendencies traversing the filthy, morally bankrupt streets of New York as the titular motorist is more than worthy of that praise. Its politically charged narrative feels as vital in today's climate as it likely did upon release. But you probably already know that to be true, right? Because you have seen Taxi Driver, right?

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.

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.

Trainspotting

Of all the filmmakers who rode in on the indie film wave of the '90s, few have had as adventurous a career as Danny Boyle. Since first gaining notice with his twisty neo-noir thriller Shallow Grave in 1994, the director has made some of the best-loved and most deeply divisive films of the past two decades. He's won himself an Oscar for Best Director, worked with some of the biggest names in showbiz, orchestrated the Opening Ceremony for the 2012 Olympic Games, and delivered bold, stylish films across virtually every cinematic genre. But no matter what else he does, every single one of those projects has been compared to the kinetic, drug-fueled opus Boyle delivered in 1996.

That film was, of course, Trainspotting. And the reason people are still comparing Boyle's modern-day work to a film he made over two decades ago is because even after so many years, Trainspotting still feels as fresh, vital, and wildly original today as it did upon release — a fact made clear by the failure of Boyle and Co. to rebottle the lightning for the long-gestating sequel, 2017's T2 Trainspotting.

We won't spoil any of the madness for those of you who have yet to climb into the heroine-drenched gutters of Trainspotting, 'cause experiencing that madness untainted is part of what makes watching the film such a soul-shaking experience. All we'll say of the film is this — if you haven't actually seen Trainspotting, then you've never really seen anything quite like Trainspotting. So see that you do.

Neruda

Some filmmakers take several films and countless years to develop their narrative voice and cinematic vision. Others seem to arrive on the scene as if flung from space with voice and vision already well defined. Chilean auteur Pablo Larraín is very much of the latter category. Though he'd already made a name for himself on the international indie scene by then, 2016 was the year Larraín officially broke through.

That breakthrough came with the one-two punch of dual experimental biopics titled Jackie and Neruda. Jackie proved an emotionally devastating study of former first lady Jackie Kennedy, as portrayed by Natalie Portman. Neruda paints a similarly prismatic portrait of the unabashedly romantic poet-laureate of the Chilean working class, Pablo Neruda. Though it was largely overlooked in the mammoth shadow of Jackie, Neruda may well be Larraín's first official masterpiece. 

Equal parts soul-stirring portrait of a legit literary icon, meticulously constructed political drama, and pseudo farcical metaphysical detective thriller, Neruda unfolds with the kaleidoscopically meandering lyricism one would expect from Neruda's own work. Through that protracted prism, Larraín examines the politically turmoil within Chile circa the 1940s — a time that saw Neruda (Luis Gnecco) fall from intellectual voice of the people to wanted criminal almost overnight. But when the government tasks an ambitious detective (Gael García Bernal) to hunt him down, the real world and the fictional begin to meld in increasingly unusual ways, and Neruda transcends the restrictions of cinema and literature to become something wholly original, and altogether awe-inspiring. 

The Box

Almost two decades have passed since Richard Kelly broke the collective brains of the film world with his reality-shifting genre mashup Donnie Darko. On the strength of Donnie Darko alone, Kelly has become a cult film figurehead in the ensuing years. He's only bolstered that status by directing two feature films since, both of which have proven as haunting, heady, and confounding as Kelly's masterful debut. The first of those films was 2006's Southland Tales, a tragically misunderstood social satire that essentially earned cult status before it even hit theaters. The second was 2009's The Box, a film that barely registered in theaters before fading into oblivion sans even that "cult classic" tag.

That's a legit tragedy, because The Box may well be Richard Kelly's most accomplished film. One that finds the director utilizing a relatively simple setup — a couple receives a mysterious wooden box, and are promptly informed that pushing the button on top will grant them one million dollars... but will simultaneously kill someone they've never met. From that stark moral quandary, Kelly spins a mind-bogglingly dense human tragedy fueled by greed, regret, fear, and a near suffocating sense of paranoia. 

Yes, The Box is a genuinely grim affair. It's often confusing as all hell too. But if you choose to traverse its blisteringly bleak emotional landscape, you'll be rewarded with a lavishly photographed, stingingly insightful, meticulously orchestrated mindf**k of a film that'll engage/provoke your intellect in that beautifully morose way that only Richard Kelly films do.

The Invitation

There are horror movies that shock you with jump-scares and blood-splatter, and those that burrow into your brain, festering there like a pestilence primed to ravage you body and soul. If you've already ventured into the unholy dinner party drama of Karyn Kusama's The Invitation, you know which side of that horror movie coin it lands on. You also know it's not entirely fair to classify Kusama's nightmarishly elegant study of grief as a horror film at all.

For those of you who haven't stepped into the fray, know that The Invitation starts out ominously, with an on-edge young couple en route to a dinner party. Turns out the host of the part is the man's ex wife, and that the marriage dissolved in the wake of a loss neither has fully recovered from. Things only get more dire from there.

And from that tautest of setups, Kusama takes a cool, calculating pace, milking a narrative built for a slow, soulful burn while guiding the apocalyptic action headlong toward a shocking final act as surprising as it is inevitable. Of that final act, we'll say nothing more — mostly because a lot of you will see the madness coming. That's sort of the point, of course, and no matter how full-on slasher flick Kusama and company make things, at its core, The Invitation is meant to be a raw-nerve styled character study about loss and soul-choking grief. And in humanizing (without rationalizing) the inherent insanity, The Invitation manages to creep us out in ways most horror movies cannot fathom.

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.

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.

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.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

In a decades-long career that saw her pen a series of harrowing, deeply personal tales about haunted houses and haunted people, Shirley Jackson became one of the most important genre writers in history. Those stories include her 1959 masterpiece The Haunting of Hill House, and her lesser known final novel, 1960's We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

In spite of its deliciously foreboding title, We Have Always Lived in the Castle is not a haunted house story. Of course, that's not to say that the dead don't haunt the lives of the central players in Jackson's eerie swan song — quite the opposite, in fact. As adapted for the screen by writer Mark Kruger and director Stacie Passon, We Have Always Lived in the Castle takes a distinctly The Haunting of Hill House approach to narrative, teasing dense, ominous overtones to cast a disquieting level of supernatural ambience over an already discomfiting gothic psychodrama.

At the center of the fray are the Blackwood sisters, Constance (Alexandra Daddario) and Merricat (Taissa Farmiga), who live in relative isolation with their Uncle Julian (Crispin Glover), himself confined to a wheelchair in the wake of a family tragedy that left Mother, Father, and Aunt dead. Of course, there's more to the story of the Blackwood deaths, and when a distant cousin (Sebastian Stan) turns up to claim his piece of the family fortune, things get heavy quickly, and We Have Always Lived in the Castle twists from haunted family drama into something far more unsettling.  

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.

Carrie

Spring, 1974. The literary realm was about to receive the first offering from a singular voice in the realm of horror fiction. His name was Stephen King. The book was Carrie. It told the agonizing tale of a teenage outsider whose religious zealot of a mother has stifled her emotional growth, and kept suppressed her burgeoning telekinetic abilities. Like the world within the story, the real world would never be the same once Carrie's powers were unleashed.

Of course, much of Carrie's legacy is directly tied to the release of Brian De Palma's iconic genre confection released just two years later. And make no mistake, however massive the impact of King's book was on the literary scene, the cinematic and cultural impact of De Palma's Carrie was far greater.

Odds are you already know that, and there really isn't much we can say about Carrie that hasn't already been said. The film was a legit critical and commercial success that effortlessly combined genre fiction with arthouse style. It features breakout performances from the likes of Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Amy Irving, Nancy Allen, and John Travolta. And it's been remade on two separate occasions now — though neither the 2002 TV version or the 2013 big screen venture can hold a candle to the original in terms of drama, horror, or style. So, if you don't already know that, well, now's the time to find out.

Snatch

Of all the noteworthy filmmakers who broke through in the '90s (Darren Aronofsky, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Richard Linklater among them), few did so with quite as much verve as Guy Ritchie. The director's stylishly kinetic and laugh-out-loud hilarious caper comedy Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels remains a highlight of the decade, even if the director's best work would follow just two years later.

Titled simply Snatch, that film saw Ritchie building on the styles (breakneck cutting, outlandish violence, dialogue driven by street smart slang) and themes (low-level stooges with off-color nicknames bungling toward a big score with unabashed comic zeal) that made Lock, Stock such a refreshing cinematic endeavor, and delivering a devilishly over-the-top magnus opus of the Brit-crime genre. One that finds the entirety of London's criminal underground — bare knuckle boxing promoters, bookmakers, and Russian gangsters on the hunt for a priceless stolen diamond.

In service of bringing this marvelously madcap diamond dash to life, Ritchie enlisted an impressive A-list cast of U.S. and U.K. players, including Benicio del Toro, Jason Statham, Dennis Farina, Vinnie Jones, Ewen Bremmer, Jason Flemyng, Lennie James, and of course, Mr. Brad Pitt. Not surprisingly, it was Pitt's involvement in Snatch that really got people talking about the movie. And as solid as the cast is top to bottom, Pitt's miraculous turn as a shifty, tough-as-nails Gypsy absolutely steals the show, and helps transform Ritchie's clever genre retread into a crackerjack crime comedy for the ages.

Burning

If you've been paying any attention to the international film landscape over the past two decades or so, you've likely noticed that South Korea has become a major player on the market, with filmmakers delivering a wave of movies as artistically ambitious as they are deeply disturbing. You probably noticed Chang-dong Lee's name listed as director on many of those films as well, even if he works with far less frequency than many of his contemporaries — a full eight years passed between Lee's harrowing Alzheimer's drama Poetry and 2018's Burning. Given the director's near-flawless track record, it's no surprise that Burning was well worth the wait.

If you've yet to experience Lee's latest simmering slow burner, you should know it's adapted from a short story by iconic Japanese scribe Haruki Murakami, and that it follows the tale of a directionless young man whose meandering existence is upended by the reappearance of a woman he knew in his youth. That life is further impacted by the arrival of a wealthy, enigmatic young businessman (a never-better Steven Yeun) with an eye on the woman. If you're thinking that setup makes Burning sound like a run-of-the-mill love triangle drama, you're gonna need to think again. From that simple setup, Lee and his cast spin a cryptic, propulsive little thriller that revels in ambiguities and moral quandaries — and one that barrels ever so slowly towards a heart-stopping finale that's certain to haunt your memory well after the credits roll.    

Cloud Atlas

First published in 2004, the epic, mind-bending sci-fi novel known as Cloud Atlas was hailed in some literary circles as a visionary work of speculative fiction. Not surprisingly, Cloud Atlas was also believed to be totally unadaptable for a big screen treatment. Clearly, nobody told Tom Tykwer or the Wachowskis that fact. So it was that the adventurous trio set out to bring their sprawling, star-studded, and unabashedly ambitious adaptation of Cloud Atlas to the world a few years later — only to see the world all but ignore it. That was the world's loss. 

Set over six different time periods, fit with loosely intertwined narratives that start and stop with little notice, and featuring a brilliant ensemble cast (fronted by Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, and Susan Sarandon) all playing multiple roles throughout, Cloud Atlas was, admittedly, a challenging slice of experimental cinema for the blockbuster audience it targeted. As if the film's dense narrative, cerebral structure, and highbrow spirituality weren't enough to scare that audience off, the film's almost three-hour runtime was probably enough to seal the deal. 

Those brave enough to buy the ticket and take the supremely wild-ass ride that is Cloud Atlas were rewarded with a visionary work of cinematic daring so full of visual thrills, stark human drama, and complex philosophical ideologies it could spin the head of even the savviest of cineastes. To those who missed out, we'd wager this marvelous mindf**k of a film will be a bit more digestible in the comforts of your own home.

Snowpiercer

Since breaking onto the international film scene with the potent one-two punch of 2000s Barking Dogs Never Bite and 2003's Memories of Murder, South Korean auteur Bong Joon-ho has become one of the most respected filmmakers working today. That's because in the years since, he's put together one of the most adventurous filmographies cinema has ever seen. The director continued to surprise when — on the heels of his kaiju-styled romp The Host, and a deeply personal crime drama in Mother — he adapted a little-known graphic novel for his followup, which also marked his English-language debut.

Though many foreign filmmakers struggle in adapting their style to American markets, Bong took the challenge in stride, and delivered one of the more bracingly original sci-fi confections of the modern era. Snowpiercer unfolds on a speeding train that's spent 17 straight years cutting through a desolate landscape decimated by a failed climate change experiment, and even amongst this director's eclectic filmography, it's one hell of a wild ride.

As with much of Bong's work, it's also politically charged, with climate science in play outside the train, and class warfare broiling inside. Of the ensuing fight, we'll say nothing, 'cause we wouldn't dare spoil one wild ass minute of this film for those who haven't seen it. Just know that Snowpiercer is completely crazy in ways you cannot fathom. And know that's a very good thing.

50/50

Though he's kept a relatively low profile over the past few years, between 2004 and 2014, Joseph Gordon-Levitt was one of the busier young talents in show biz, appearing in some of the boldest films coming out of Hollywood. He did so at the behest of heavy-hitting filmmakers like Rian Johnson, Christopher Nolan, Spike Lee, Gregg Araki, and Steven Spielberg, earning a heap of critical accolades and a pair of Golden Globe nominations along the way.

Said nominations came via his work as the lead in a pair of first-rate romantic comedies, the second of which featured Gordon-Levitt opposite Seth Green and Anna Kendrick. Of course, it's not entirely fair to label 2011's 50/50 a romantic comedy given that it follows the travails of a young man who — after being diagnosed with a potentially fatal case of spinal cancer — is given even odds at survival (hence the film's title).

While 50/50 is often unabashedly romantic and at times laugh-out-loud funny, the film (based on the experiences of first-time screenwriter Will Reiser) dedicates equal time to the inherent drama within, allowing Gordon-Levitt to deliver an emotionally dexterous performance worthy of all the praise it garnered. Director Jonathan Levine wisely lets his star (and ace supporting cast) lead the way, guiding the film with a subtle touch, and infusing the action with a playful edge and understated urgency that ensures viewers will laugh, and cry, and be left with an unflinching desire to hug their mother.

The Autopsy of Jane Doe

Genre fans are currently entrenched in a veritable golden age of horror cinema. So much so that it seems like every single week, a brainy new genre confection is hitting theaters to rave reviews and box office conquest. Of course, that kind of success has led to an inevitable over-saturation of horror flicks in the theatrical market. And that means that every year there's a black-hearted diamond or two unfairly lost in the rough.

One of the more egregiously overlooked gems of late has to be André Øvredal's 2016 pseudo-haunted house chiller The Autopsy of Jane Doe. If you recognize Øvredal's name, it's likely because you saw his 2010 found-footage masterpiece Trollhunter. If you're wondering why you never heard about The Autopsy of Jane Doe, well, the film received virtually no promotion from distributors en route to its theatrical release and was all but ignored by audiences in theaters.

Luckily, Øvredal's atmospheric creeper has garnered legit cult-classic status via streaming platforms. So if you've yet to experience the morbid delights within The Autopsy of Jane Doe, there's no time like the present. Don't worry, we wouldn't dare spoil a single monstrous moment of it for you. Just know that The Autopsy of Jane Doe (part haunting procedural mystery and part gory, ghoulish fright fest) is very much centered around the gruesome titular act, that Øvredal makes marvelous use of the film's grim, single location, and that nothing can quite prepare you for the grisly mystery unfolding within.