The best movies on Netflix right now
We made it, friends. All our binge watches and movie marathons somehow got us through the longest, strangest, darkest year in recent memory, and here we are on the other side. A new year brings new hope, new beginnings, and, crucially, new binge watches and movie marathons. So — where to look? How to begin? What to Netflix next???
Here are EW’s picks from the streamer’s current crop of flicks to help you program your 2021 in Netflix, from the most beautiful and the most swashbuckling to the best literary adaptation and best Tilda Swinton transformation. Check back every month as this new year marches on and the lineup changes, but in the meantime, happy streaming and a very happy 2021 to you!
The first South Korean film to ever be shortlisted (though not nominated) for Best Foreign Language Film, Lee Chang-dong’s drama follows an aspiring writer struggling in Seoul when he runs into an old classmate, through whom he meets a wealthy, possibly dangerous new acquaintance. Let this slow-burning (and two-plus-hour-long) thriller take its time to catch — and then smolder on your mind for days afterward.
Wins EW’s award for: Most Smoldering
File under: South Korean Cinema, Cannes, Psychological Thrillers, Class Conflict, Cat-Sitting, Alarming Hobbies
Talent: Steven Yeun, Yoo Ah-in
Howards End (1992)
“Only connect!” reads the most famous line in E.M. Forster’s immortal 1910 novel. How wonderful such a directive sounds now, over a century after the book was first published and 28 years since James Ivory’s exquisite adaptation was released. Emma Thompson (who won Best Actress for her performance) and Helena Bonham Carter star as idealistic sisters whose fates intertwine with a poor young couple and a wealthy, highly conventional family. “Live in fragments no longer,” Forster’s passage continues. How dare they make this book into a miniseries!
Wins EW’s award for: Best Literary Adaptation
File under: 20th Century Brit Lit, Merchant Ivory Productions, Supremely Tasteful Period Pieces, Elegant Country Homes, Class Consciousness, Quirky Sisters, Mind the Bookcase
Related reading: Helena Bonham Carter: Howards End ‘absorbed into my life’
The Invitation (2015)
Quarantine got you missing dinner parties? Have we got a cure for that! Karyn Kusama’s totally cool, totally chilling thriller, about a group of old friends at a dinner party where old baggage and new lifestyles clash spectacularly, will make you glad that you’re stuck alone in your one-bedroom apartment with nothing but box wine and frozen pizzas to keep you company. And Netflix! Of course!
Wins EW’s award for: Most Inviting RSVP
File under: Indie Film, SXSW, Suspense, Los Angeles, Quarantine Beard Inspo, Ominous Opening Scenes, Saving Room for Dessert
Lady Bird (2017)
This tale of early-aughts adolescent angst, starring Saoirse Ronan in the TITULAR ROLE (!), scored five Oscar nominations and announced the arrival of Greta Gerwig as a director to watch. It’s easy to say that Lady Bird is about Lady Bird (or “Christine,” as some people call her, for some reason) and her mother, but that would be to dismiss Lady Bird and her father, or her best friend, or her high school boyfriend(s), or her hometown. The sweetness and tension of those relationships is woven into the beautifully drawn, ever-evolving one between Lady Bird and herself, and isn’t that what coming-of-age stories are really about?
Wins EW’s award for: Best Mother-Daughter Duo
File under: Directorial Debuts, A24, Sacramento, Pink Hair Don’t Care, Crucial Justin Timberlake Moments, Names We Give Ourselves
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
There are a lot of comedies available on Netflix. There are romantic comedies, there are raunchy comedies, there are basically-just-dramas-but-wanted-a-Golden-Globe comedies, there are just fully bad comedies. The second Monty Python feature, however, which uproariously lampoons Arthurian legend, is — forgive me — the holy grail of the streamer’s comedic selection. If you haven’t seen it, well, your mother was a hamster, and your father smelt of elderberries.
Wins EW’s award for: Most Absurd
File under: ‘70s Movies, Arthurian Lit, British Humor, Flesh Wounds, Knights Who Say ‘Ni!’
EW grade: N/A
The best Best Picture winner available on Netflix is a no-brainer. While we’ll never forget the moment team La La Land had to cede the Oscar stage to Moonlight after Faye Dunaway was given the wrong envelope, the film itself is even more indelibly etched in our memories than the event of its dramatic underdog victory. An adaptation of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, Barry Jenkins’ achingly expressive film tells the story of Chiron, a black boy (then teen, then man) discovering himself amid great pain and difficulty — and beauty.
Wins EW’s award for: Best Best Picture
File under: A24, Indie Film, LGBTQ Cinema, Miami, Romantic Diner Dates, Unforgettable Beach Moments
Related reading: Moonlight writer-director shares secrets from the most suspenseful scene
In 2014, we lived in a very different world — but Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler has only become more potent in the six long years since its release. Jake Gyllenhaal is at his most deranged (yes, even considering The Sack Lunch Bunch) as Lou Bloom, an enterprising young psychopath who endeavors to build a video-journalism empire chasing down sensational footage of gruesome crime scenes. Riz Ahmed costars as the Los Angeles metropolitan area’s most abused intern, which is saying something.
Wins EW’s award for: Most Antiheroic
File under: Cannes, Los Angeles, Directorial Debuts, Internships, Jake Gyllenhaal Getting Weird, Capitalism Kills
Netflix has proven itself to be a force to be reckoned with at Oscar season (which will probably prove truer than ever next year), and its first original narrative feature to score a coveted statuette (for Best Cinematography, Best Foreign Language Film, and Best Director, though it unforgivably lost Best Picture to Green Book) was Alfonso Cuarón’s deeply affecting chronicle of a live-in housekeeper to a Mexico City family, inspired by his own childhood. Marriage Story and The Irishman are extraordinary films from world-class directors, but Roma takes our crown for the streamer’s greatest.
Wins EW’s award for: Best Netflix Original
File under: Mexican Cinema, Egregious Oscar Snubs, Found Families, Bad Boyfriends, Balancing on One Leg
Related reading: The biggest foreign film winners in Oscar history
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
It may have been defeated by The Expendables at the box office, but after 10 years, Edgar Wright’s hilarious, hyper-stylized cult classic still hasn’t run out of lives. Michael Cera stars as the title character, a bassist in a garage band who falls in love with Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Technicolor-haired Ramona Flowers — but must first battle her seven evil exes in order to earn the honor of dating her. He must battle Jason Schwartzman! He must battle Chris Evans! You must battle the urge to just watch Scott Pilgrim vs. the World on repeat for the next month while you’re pretending to work from home!
Wins EW’s award for: Best Box Office Bob-Omb
File under: Graphic Novel Adaptations, Toronto, Comic-Con, Early Chris Evans, Veganism, Fraught Dating Histories
A Single Man (2009)
Here’s the movie that Colin Firth really should have won his Oscar for. Based on the novel by Christopher Isherwood, Tom Ford’s poetic directorial debut stars Firth (who did at least score a nomination for it) as a man in 1960s Los Angeles who is quietly, heartbrokenly mourning the loss of his partner while secretly planning to commit suicide himself. It’s much more life-affirming than it sounds! And much more gorgeous, in every moment, than anything else you’ll find on streaming.
Wins EW’s award for: Most Beautiful
File Under: Indie Film, LGBTQ Cinema, Hair Goals, Los Angeles, Mohair Sweaters, Skinny Dipping, Perfect Closing Lines
Related reading: The 25 most stylish movies of all time
The long-awaited Snowpiercer TV series has finally arrived, but before diving into that one, why not brush up on what came before? Yet another memorable Chris performance and a typically mind-blowing turn from Tilda Swinton make Bong Joon-ho’s class-conscious environmental sci-fi flick a truly piercing streaming selection for these long, lonely, apocalyptic times.
Wins EW’s award for: Best Tilda Swinton Transformation
File under: Sci-Fi, Headed to Television, The Apocalypse Is Nigh, #BongHive Rise Up
The Social Network (2010)
A million dollars isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? The Social Network. Aaron Sorkin’s deliciously slick film about the creation of Facebook has a different resonance now that what was once just a fun website for college pals has become the foundation of a powerful billionaire’s empire and platform for the potential spread of dangerous misinformation. Despite the years, however, it’s a testament to the film’s greatness that it’s aged like a wine fine enough to satisfy even the Winklevii. The only improvement we’d suggest might be to drop the ‘the’ — just Social Network. It’s cleaner.
Wins EW’s award for: Most Quotable
File under: Best of the 2010s, Biopics, Iconic Movie Trailers, Ivy League Pretension, Appletinis, Armie Hammer x Armie Hammer
Taxi Driver (1976)
Happily for everyone (or if not happily, exactly, then maybe kind of darkly, or violently, or in fact musically, or what have you) there are a few Martin Scorsese movies on Netflix, including the streamer’s The Irishman and a pair of the filmmaker’s rock docs. But the most crucial among them — no shade to Hugo! — is Marty’s earth-shattering fifth feature, which marked his second collaboration (after 1973’s Mean Streets) with Robert De Niro, who scored an Oscar nod for his performance as the iconic title character, Travis Bickle.
Wins EW’s award for: Best Scorsese
File under: ‘70s Movies, New York City, Vigilantism, Quarantine Haircut Inspo, You Talkin’ to Me?
EW grade: N/A
Paul Dano made his directorial debut with this gorgeous adaptation of Richard Ford’s novel about a marriage unraveling in 1960s Montana, seen through the eyes of the couple’s young son. It’s nothing short of criminal that the Academy didn’t show the devastating drama any love, but the Sundance breakout did score three Spirit Award nods and a coveted spot in the Criterion Collection, so who’s laughing now? (To be clear, nobody is laughing, exactly, but I guess everybody is maybe staring straight ahead with a newfound clarity in their eyes, innocence lost and understanding deepened, self-reliance strengthened and trust slightly diminished — something along those lines. Nobody is laughing, however.)
Wins EW’s award for: Loneliest Only Child
File under: Sundance, Criterion Releases, Actors-Turned-Directors, Family Portraits, Fighting Fires, Starting Fires