The 50 best films on Netflix

While some movies have vanished from the streaming service, many have arrived and there are plenty to fill the summer evenings, from comedy classics like ‘Airplane’ to thrillers such as ‘Winter’s Bone’

 

A few years ago, we published a guide to the best films available on Netflix. It proved to be one of our most popular stories ever. Since then many new films have arrived and – somewhat puzzlingly – more than a few have vanished. We would ask for a few more from before 1960, but there are still plenty of classics to fill the yawning evenings. Don’t “chill”. Watch the blasted film.

45 Years (Dir Andrew Haigh, 2015) Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff (Tom Courtenay), are a retired couple preparing for their 45th anniversary party. In the days before the party, Geoff receives a letter: the body of his first love, Katya, has been found, encased in ice. This dramatic discovery threatens to blow their long marriage apart. TB

Airplane! (Dir Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker, 1980) Surely, this still irresistible comedy must have the greatest hit-rate for classy one-liners in the history of the medium? That goes without saying and stop calling me “Shirley”. We don’t know where to begin. Drinking problem. It’s a big building with patients. And so on.  

Annie Hall (Dir Woody Allen, 1977) Fans of Woody Allen are spoiled for choice over at Netflix.ie right now. Choose from classics like Bananas, Hannah and Her Sisters, Purple Rose of Cairo, Manhattan, Radio Days and Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex. Or newer Allen joints like To Rome with Love. Or imitation Allen films like Antz and Play It Again Sam, starring, well, Woody Allen. Gun to our head choice is still Annie Hall. Best Marshall McLuhan gag ever. 

The Apartment (Dir Billy Wilder, 1960) Jack Lemmon plays the office drone who allows his apartment to be used as a knocking shop for the senior staff. Wilder’s farce is properly funny, but it is also among the gloomiest of comedies. This is a film in which the female lead (glorious Shirley MacLaine) tries to kill herself at Christmas. That’s how it crumbles, cookie-wise. 

Apocalypto (Dir Mel Gibson, 2006) Talk about bad timing: released six months after its director made certain unfortunate remarks, the audacious Apocalypto ought to have secured Mel Gibson’s reputation as a major directorial talent. His tremendous running-man actioner – set against the last days of the great Mayan empire – was rightly hailed as a masterpiece by such filmmakers as Quentin Tarantino and Spike Lee

The Babadook (Dir Jennifer Kent, 2014) The best modern horror has always derived from everyday traumas. This superb Australian shocker concerns a young mother coping indifferently with her troublesome young son. Are the various strange occurrences down to the boy’s misbehaviour or a natty spectre spoken of in a children’s book?

Bad Lieutenant (Dir Abel Ferrarra, 1992) The horrific rape of a nun might just be getting to Harvey Keitel’s gambling, crack- smoking, sexual-assaulting, corrupt cop. Ferrarra’s unabashedly torrid (and strangely Catholic) drama was remade by Werner Herzog in 2009, but remains an entirely singular picture.

Best of Enemies (Dir Robert Gordon, Morgan Neville, 2015) In this indecently entertaining documentary, we find Christopher Hitchens explaining that Gore Vidal (left-wing libertine) and William F Buckley (right-wing scold) really did hate one another. This may have been so, but, sparring at the 1968 US party conventions, they come across as two sides of the same patrician coin. Priceless.

Blue Ruin (Dir Jeremy Saulnier, 2014) Macon Blair is a revelation as Dwight, the lost soul at the heart of Jeremy “Green Room” Saulnier’s backwoods thriller. A shuffling broken man who lives in his car, Dwight is stirred into action by news that the man who killed his parents is getting released from prison. He soon catches up with the killer, only to reignite an ancient family feud.

Clueless (Dir Amy Heckerling, 1995) Yes, we know it’s an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma. Everyone knows that. Alicia Silverstone was great as the archetypal valley girl – nosy but decent – in a film whose ripples are still spreading. Gave us Paul Rudd and the late Brittany Murphy. Spawned a sitcom and a lexicon. Beat that, Austen.

Cobain: Montage of Heck (Dir Brett Morgen, 2015) Excellent documentary on the late Kurt Cobain from the man behind The Kid Stays in the Picture. Using animations to both dramatise audio recordings and to bring Kurt’s extensive catalogues of doodles to life, Montage of Heck has a wonderful handmade feel, not unlike Jonathan Caouette’s wonderful 2003 auto-doc, Tarnation. Full access to major players – Courtney, Krist – and archives has been made the most of.

Dazed and Confused (Dir Richard Linklater, 1993) The master of loose-limbed film-making, Linklater takes us back to Austin in 1975 to meet a lolloping set of stoners, movers and layabouts. Form echoes content as the picture allows character to develop independently of story (insofar as such a thing exists). Awesome!

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (Dir Frank Oz, 1988) Michael Caine and Steve Martin are rival con artists scamming wealthy marks on the French Riviera. Their one-upmanship over an American heiress (Glenne Headly) makes for one of cinema’s great comic rivalries.

Downfall (Dir Oliver Hirschbiegel, 2004) Hirschbiegel plays it straight in his study of Hitler’s last days. There are few directorial flourishes. The script is strictly functional. Downfall is, however, elevated by an incandescent performance from Bruno Ganz as the doomed tyrant. Spawned a stubborn, still unavoidable internet meme for people who want to express anger about stuff.

Dreams of a Life (Dir Carol Morley, 2011) Touching, genre-defying mystery-doc – featuring re-enactments starring Zawe Ashton and Alix Luka-Cain – relating the sad story of a young English woman who was found dead in her flat three years after her demise. The steady drip-feed of information makes for a fascinating portrait of a fascinating woman. But the more we know, the further we get from understanding the subject’s lonely death.

Drunken Master (Dir Yuen Woo-ping, 1978) There’s isn’t a huge selection of martial arts films on Netflix, but it has found room for one of Jackie Chan’s most entertaining early entertainments. The great man plays an idiot who, after many typical mishaps, falls under the protection of the titular boozed-up tutor. A cinematic encyclopaedia of Asian fighting styles.

Fargo (Dir Joel Coen, 1996) A heavily pregnant police chief (Frances McDormand) investigates a series of murders and a botched kidnapping plot in this influential black comedy. Coen Brothers fans should also avail of No Country for Old Men, Miller’s Crossing and Raising Arizona.

The Fighter (Dir David O Russell, 2010) Russell returned from creative isolation for the first of several films set among colourfully annoyed urban families. Mark Wahlberg is fine as boxer Micky Ward, but the movie is stolen by angular Melissa Leo (as his mother) and a fidgety Christian Bale (as his brother). Both won Oscars.

Force Majeure (Dir Ruben Östlund, 2015) Following an act of cowardice during an avalanche at a ski resort, Tomas (Bah Kuhnke) is forced to re-evaluate his relationship with his family. There are endless recriminations, icy looks, conversations that go around and around to no end and, most of all, there is the excruciating sense of being stuck in a room with married people who are, figuratively, knocking lumps out of each other. Deserving of its devoted cult following.

Foxy Brown (Dir Jack Hill, 1974) Blaxpoitation was viewed with some suspicion by contemporary cultural commentators, but the films are now viewed as vital assertions of African-American influence. Surely the most notable is this revenge thriller starring the indestructible Pam Grier. The image was as important as the content.

Ghost in the Shell (Dir Mamoru Oshii, 1995) A female cyborg from Public Security Section 9 is assigned to capture an elusive hacker known as the Puppet Master. Nothing is as it seems. The themes and tricksy plotlines of this seminal anime have been frequently plundered – most notably by the Wachowski siblings’ The Matrix – but never equalled in presentation.

Grand Budapest Hotel (Dir Wes Anderson, 2014) Anderson finally secured a genuine commercial hit with this wild romance set in a Ruritania torn apart by fascism, corruption and a shift towards vulgarity. Great turns by Adrien Brody, Saoirse Ronan and Ed Norton. Ralph Fiennes reveals his inner Leonard Rossiter. The plot acknowledges the influence of the clever populist Stefan Zweig.

The Guest (Dir Adam Wingard, 2014) A soldier (Dan Stevens) arrives in town to visit the family of a fallen comrade. Quite quickly, various levels of amusing chaos break out. Stevens keeps a poker straight face as he delivers some of the year’s funniest lines. Maika Monroe makes for a magnetic Final Girl.

Harold and Maude (Dir Hal Ashby, 1971) Did we just mention Wes Anderson? The roots of millennial oddball can be found in this delightful post-hippie fable by the versatile Hal Ashby. Ruth Gordon and Bud Cort play, respectively, an older lady, still full of juice, and an interesting kid obsessed with death. Their coupling ultimately proves quite romantic.

If... (Dir. Lindsay Anderson, 1968) “One man can change the world with a bullet in the right place.” Three rebellious teens – led by Malcolm McDowell – rebel against the oppressive codes of their English boarding school in Lindsay Anderson’s countercultural classic.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Dir Philip Kaufman, 1978) Not surprisingly, audiences approached the remake of Don Siegel’s 1956 classic with some caution. Happily, Kaufman managed to honour the original while finding contemporary spin on the paranoid high concept. If Siegel’s film was “about” McCarthyism, Kaufman’s is “about” Watergate. Now point at me with a gaping mouth.

It Happened One Night (Dir Frank Capra, 1934) Sparks fly when a twinkling roguish reporter (Clark Gable) meets a spoiled socialite (Claudette Colbert) in Frank Capra’s perfect screwball comedy. Hollywood legend tells is that Gable’s pre-Hayes Code shirtless scene caused a sales drop in undergarments and that his character became a template for Bugs Bunny.

Like Crazy (Dir Drake Doremus, 2011) The recent death of Anton Yelchin was such a loss to cinema. His pairing with Felicity Jones on this enchanting, sad, long-distance romance did wonders for both careers. He expanded his range. She proved she had international appeal. Justifies the damp destruction of hankies.

The Lives of Others (Dir Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2006) It is 1984 in East Germany where the Stasi employ more than 100,000 operatives, including the zealous officer Wiesler (the remarkable Ulrich Mühe), who is ordered to spy on pro-GDR playwright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch), a non-subversive artist who is deemed suspicious because he is above suspicion. An irresistible combination of melodrama and political thriller.

Lost in Translation (Dir Sofia Coppola, 2003) Even at the time, it was clear that Coppola’s deadened dramatic travelogue was the sort of film that defines an era. Bill Murray is the actor cast into confusion while visiting a blank Tokyo hotel. Scarlett Johansson is the young woman who becomes his friend. Beautiful and empty.

Margin Call (Dir JC Chandor, 2011) A starry cast – Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Zachary Quinto, Penn Badgley, Simon Baker, Demi Moore and Stanley Tucci – re-enact the last days of Lehman Brothers, in what many regard as the best Wall Street thriller ever made.

Mommy (Dir Xavier Dolan, 2014) Somehow or other Xavier Dolan, Québécois wunderkind, managed to make a handful of near-classics before reaching his late 20s. The most accessible, touching and innovative of the bunch concerns a widow coping with a troubled son in cold suburbia. Both joyous and tragic, the picture has great fun with aspect ratio. (No, really.)

The Other Guys (Dir Adam McKay, 2010) Dwayne Johnson and Samuel L Jackson are the toughest cops in the precinct. Ferrell and Wahlberg are the less effective pairing of the title. Can they unravel a conspiracy orchestrated by a millionaire property developer (Steve Coogan)? Ineptitude has seldom looked so appealing.

The Overnighters (Dir Jesse Moss, 2014) Moving US documentary about a most surprising subject. Moss’s film concerns workers drawn to North Dakota during an oil- drilling boom who subsequently discover that property is close to unaffordable. A local pastor opens his doors with controversial results. Ends up somewhere very unexpected.

The Parallax View (Dir Alan J Pakula, 1974) Reporter Warren Beatty gets closer than he might have liked when he starts investigating the sinister Parallax Corporation. The terrifying second instalment of Pakula’s Political Paranoia trilogy – released between Klute and All the President’s Men – is the one most likely to leave the viewer reaching for a tinfoil hat.

Pi (Dir Darren Aronofsky, 1998) What sort of director would make his debut with a paranoid monochrome thriller about a man who is driven crazy by his own capacity for mathematics? Why, Darren Aronofsky, of course. A classic example of a film that profits from budgetary restrictions.

Red Army (Dir Gabe Polsky, 2014) Hugely entertaining doc on the USSR team that dominated ice hockey in the decades before the collapse of communism. Soviet team captain Slava Fetisov contributed greatly to these achievements, although the puck-passing hero has little time for such individualistic conceits: “We were the same,” he insists. Not just for sports fans.

Reservoir Dogs (Dir Quentin Tarantino, 1992) Yes, other Tarantino films are available on Netflix, but we’re sticking to one film per director and the great man’s (proper) debut still feels like his most complete and consistent picture. A beautifully neat, interwoven series of narrative loops. Nice and violent too.

Rififi (Dir Jules Dassin, 1955) Jules Dassin was blacklisted during the McCarthy era, so he relocated to France and invented the modern heist movie. Rififi’s centrepiece – a nerve-wrecking half-hour burglary shot without music or dialogue – has simply never been bettered.

See No Evil, Hear No Evil (Dir Arthur Hiller, 1989) Stay with us here. Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder, a beautiful complementary partnership, reach dumb-ass nirvana in a film that is as offensive as it is outrageous. Pryor is blind. Wilder is deaf. What more could you want? A young Kevin Spacey perhaps. Keep eyes peeled.

Serpico (Dir Sidney Lumet, 1973) Classic crime drama which sees Al Pacino’s righteous titular whistle-blower take on his colleagues to expose corruption within the NYPD. The central turn – arguably a career-best – and a gritty script by Waldo Salt and Norman Wexler, ensure that Serpico has aged well.

The Shawshank Redemption (Dir Frank Darabont, 1994) The belated, baffling re-evaluation as “best film of all time” by visitors to IMDb should not distract us from the simple, strong pleasures available here. Detailing a lengthy, lengthy prison break, Darabont’s film swells with belief in a very American school of decency. Tim Robbins is good. Morgan Freeman is better.

Simon Killer (Dir Antonio Campos, 2013) A college graduate (Brady Corbet) arrives in Paris, becomes involved with a prostitute and hints toward dark secrets in his recent past in this dark, pitiless, mesmerising portrait of a parasitical misogynist. Gene Kelly never acted this way.

Star Trek: First Contact (Dir Jonathan Frakes, 1996) No, we’re not being perverse. Neither The Voyage Home nor Wrath of Khan is currently available on Netflix. Happily, it does have the only slightly less awesome First Contact. This is the one with James Cromwell as the inventor of Warp Drive, and the Next Generation crew taking on the Borg. The last banger before reinvention?

There Will be Blood (Dir Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007) Ruthless frontier capitalist Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis), travels through the west with a young boy (Dillon Freasier) he refers to as his son. With minimum effort, he and junior swindle oil rights from a town full of rubes. Local revival tent preacher Eli Sunday (Paul Dano) recognises Plainview for the malignant thing he is: it takes one to know one. A modern classic.

Touch of Evil (Dir Orson Welles, 1958) “I suggested that Orson Welles direct it,” Charlton Heston said of this late noir. “They reacted as if I’d suggested my mother.” Universal didn’t get a smash, but it did get a seedy classic that has been debated about (and re-edited) ever since. Welles is supreme as the enormous corrupt cop.

Vertigo (Dir Alfred Hitchcock, 1958) The greatest film of all time – according to the most recent British Film Institute poll – watches as an obsessed, grieving cop (Jimmy Stewart) remodels a young woman (Kim Novak) to resemble The One That Got Away.

West of Memphis (Dir Amy Berg, 2012) The awful case of the West Memphis Three – an apparent miscarriage of justice dating from 1993 – has inspired a swathe of angry films. The best is perhaps Amy Berg’s forensic dissection of police incompetence, media imbalance and political laziness. Persuasive music by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis.

White Dog (Dir Samuel Fuller, 1982) Suppressed for decades, Sam Fuller’s politically loaded drama concerns a young actress (Kristy McNichol) who adopts a stray German Shepherd, not knowing that the dog has been trained to attack black people on sight. Can an experienced black dog trainer (Paul Winfield) re-educate the animal?

Winter’s Bone (Dir Debra Granik, 2010) When Granik’s searing Ozark thriller – concerning a girl searching for her father – first emerged, more than a few critics suggested that its unknown lead actor might hang around for a while. Within a few years, Jennifer Lawrence had an Oscar and was the biggest star in the world. The film shows why. 

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