The best movies on Netflix right now can be hard to find, titles coming and going with sometimes seemingly little rhyme or reason—and definitely not always announced. (Disney has already begun its purge, to be completed by its streaming service’s launch in November.) Which is why the number of films they’re bound to remove during any month but nevertheless below are 8 thrilling movies you can watch on netflix.
Director: Denis Villeneuve
The chance to portray twins or at-odds characters in a single film is catnip for actors of a certain level of ambition, though not without potential pitfalls. The impulse to chew scenery or present grand differentiation is often difficult to resist. Enemy, though, which reteams Jake Gyllenhaal with Prisoners director Denis Villeneuve (though it was actually shot before that film), finds the actor trading in similarly subdued and thoughtful tones as he did in that kidnapping drama.
Adapted from the late Nobel Prize-winning author José Saramago’s 2004 novel, The Double, the film offers up more than just a meaty pair of roles for Gyllenhaal. A woozy, danger-infused rumination on identity that triggers tripwires of personal panic and awakened sexual compulsion, Enemy is like a cold glass of water to the face of cinematic formalism. Adam Bell (Gyllenhaal) is a glum and distracted history professor at a small-time Canadian college whose relationship with his girlfriend, Mary (Mélanie Laurent), seems to be winding down, locked as he is in the throes of dark proclivities he can’t express. Watching a movie recommended by a coworker, he spots a bit-part actor named Anthony Clair (Gyllenhaal again) who looks exactly like him.
At once confused and oddly bewitched, Adam goes to great lengths to track down Anthony, who lives in another city with his pregnant wife, Helen (Sarah Gadon), and seems to have quit acting. Then he contacts him. A complex psychosexual game ensues that has consequences for all. Through it all, Villeneuve exudes a masterful sense of control and purpose. The sound design, by Oriol Tarragó, luxuriates in quiet expanses, giving plenty of eerie space to original music from composers Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans, which incorporates throbbing drops of bass mixed with icy piano notes.
Cinematographer Nicolas Bolduc, meanwhile, embraces a desaturated visual palette that at times feels splashed with brown mustard, which in turn complements austere production design by Patrice Vermette. Of course, none of this would much matter if Enemy was hung on the peg of an actor with less command of his craft than Gyllenhaal. As fantastical as Enemy is at certain moments, Gyllenhaal, along with Villeneuve, brings the stark horror of this psychological grappling match to life. And it’s utterly absorbing. —Brent Simon
7. April and the Extraordinary World
Director: Christian Desmares, Franck Ekinci
Keeping real life global history straight in narratives that leapfrog across decades and centuries is tough enough—making sense of alternate history when it’s articulated at breakneck speed throughout multiple eras of European cultural advancement is just downright strenuous.
Think of April and the Extraordinary World as an intense workout for your brain, during which the film shapes a surrogate Earth in the span of mere minutes and fires off salvos of detail, visual and aural alike, in the pursuit of recalibrating the past. The inattentive and unimaginative need not apply. Good news for diligent viewing types, though: April and the Extraordinary World is pretty great, a compact exercise in world building without handholding that rewards a patient, observant audience.
If you can keep pace with the film’s plot deployment, you’ll be in for a wonderful ride littered with talking cats, fabulous steampunk backdrops, rollercoaster excitement and terrific characters, all drawn through the fundamental beauty of cel animation. April and the Extraordinary World reminds us of the aesthetic value of traditional animation and the necessity of human ingenuity, all without treating its audience like idiots. —Andy Crump
6. A.I. Artificial Intelligence
Director: Steven Spielberg
A.I. may be Spielberg’s misunderstood masterpiece, evidenced by the many critics who’ve pointed out its supposed flaws only to come around to a new understanding of its greatness—chief among them Roger Ebert, who eventually included it as one of his Great Movies ten years after giving it a lukewarm first review. A.I. represents the perfect melding of Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick’s sensibilities—as Kubrick supposedly worked on the story with Spielberg, and Spielberg felt obliged to finish after Kubrick’s death—which allows the film to keep each of their worst instincts in check. It’s not as cold or distant as Kubrick’s films tend to be, but not as maudlin and manipulative as Spielberg’s films can become—and before the ending is brought out as proof of Spielberg’s failure, it should be noted that the film’s dark coda was actually Kubrick’s idea, adamant that the ending not be meddled with moreso than any other scene. A closer inspection of the film’s themes reveal a much bleaker conclusion—and, no, those aren’t “aliens.” —Oktay Ege Kozak
5. Strong Island
Director: Yance Ford
African American filmmaker Yance Ford’s Strong Island is a paean to his brother William, who was shot dead in 1992 by a white mechanic during an argument. The shooter never faced trial—it was ruled self-defense—and in the ensuing decades Ford and his family have wrestled with the injustice. Strong Island is Ford’s way of working through the pain and anger that still consume him, mixing interviews with direct addresses to the camera. It’s a slightly unfocused work (Can anyone fault Ford for being unable to marshal his grief into a completely organized treatise?) but its rawness fuels its astounding strength. —Tim Grierson
4. The Invitation
Director: Karyn Kusama
The less you know about Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation, the better. This is true of slow-burn cinema of any stripe, but Kusama slow-burns to perfection. The key, it seems, to successful slow-burning in narrative fiction is the narrative rather than the actual slow-burn. In the case of The Invitation, that involves a tale of deep and intimate heartache, the kind that none of us hopes to ever have to endure in our own lives.
The film taps into a nightmare vein of real-life dread, of loss so profound and pervasive that it fundamentally changes who you are as a human being. That’s where we begin: with an examination of grief. It’s remarkable for its foundation, for all of the substantive storytelling infrastructure that Kusama builds the film upon in the first place. The film starts in earnest as Will (Logan Marshall-Green in top form) arrives at a dinner party his ex-wife, Eden (Tammy Blanchard), is throwing at what once was their house. He has brought his girlfriend, Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi), along with him. But something is undeniably off at Eden’s place, and because Will is the lens through which Kusama’s audience engages with the film, we cannot tell what that something is.
There is oh so much more to be said about The Invitation, especially its climax, where all is revealed and we see Will’s fears and Eden’s spiritual affirmations for what they are. Until then you’ll remain on tenterhooks, but to Kusama, jitters and thrills are sensations worth savoring. Where we end is obviously best left unsaid, but The Invitation is remarkable neither for its ending nor for the direction we take to arrive at its ending. Instead, it is remarkable for its foundation, for all of the substantive storytelling infrastructure that Kusama builds the film upon in the first place. —Andy Crump
3. The Dark Crystal
Directors: Jim Henson, Frank Oz
In 1982, audiences were mixed on Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal, which was very much not in the same vein as The Muppets or Sesame Street. The strange, mystical film reveled in its fantasy setting, and in particular, its unique character design. One of the primary races in The Dark Crystal, the Skeksis, are massive, grotesque and wizened vulture-like creatures reminiscent of the inhabitants of Versailles if those inhabitants were already dead. That was enough to spook parents looking for softer family-friendly fare in the ’80s, and perhaps rightfully so. And yet, revisiting the film in 2019 ahead of Netflix’s prequel series, it still feels bold. The Dark Crystal was ahead of its time in a number of ways, both in its “puppets, but dark!” aesthetic as well as its outstanding use of animatronic arts.
There are sequences within The Dark Crystal that make time for the unnamed, fascinating, totally bizarre creatures that inhabit the world of Thra. These moments aren’t tied to plot, only world-building—which is a luxury few fantasy properties feel they can afford. A now rarely-used narrative device sets up the world of Thra and the origin of the central conflict: There is a life-giving crystal that was broken in two, giving rise to two opposing races. The aggressive Skeksis took over the throne while their counterparts, the gentle Mystics, retreated to the mountains.
Caught up in the subsequent war was an elf-like race called Gelflings, all of whom have now been eradicated other than Jen (adopted by the Mystics) and—as we later come to find—Kira (adopted by the Podlings). Jen is also the one who has been chosen to find the shard to restore the crystal, bringing peace and balance to Thra. (That opening narration saves almost an entire act of exposition, and allows The Dark Crystal to have a hugely respectable 93-minute runtime.) Aside from a unique take on a familiar “chosen one” fantasy trope, where The Dark Crystal really shines is in its visual splendor.
It’s clear how intricate and ornate these creatures are for casual Muppets fans as well as modern audiences. The design work—from the large-scale characters down to Fizzgig—creates an environment where there’s something intriguing to spot in every frame. Thra is a dying world that nevertheless feels fully alive because of the care that Henson, Gary Kurtz and Frank Oz put in to managing all of these extraordinary details. —Allison Keene
2. Slack Bay
Director: Bruno Dumont
Bruno Dumont’s Slack Bay cribs shamelessly from his 2014 movie-cum-television serial Lil’ Quinquin, a murder mystery set against a bucolic backdrop and swaddled with aggressive irreverence. Slack Bay gives no damns about such things as tonal continuity, or decorum, or logic. It doesn’t care about being coherent or making immediate sense. The film rewards viewers willing to scratch their heads. And the longer you scratch your head the more the film clicks, which isn’t to say that it ceases to be utterly frigging strange, but rather that at a point your brain naturally adapts to Dumont’s artfully bizarre wavelength.
His story normalizes, but it never becomes normal, and that’s a good thing. For all of its relentless weirdness and its unabashed idiosyncrasies, Slack Bay is a work of urgency, the kind of film that wraps its knuckles about your shirt collar and refuses to relinquish its grip until it’s assured of your full, undivided, thoroughly intimidated attentions. Movies like it don’t come along often, and when they do, they deserve to be embraced. It’s a macabre delight, loaded with deliciously overbearing performances from its stacked cast.
Fabrice Luchini and Valeria Bruni Tedeschi play André and Isabelle Van Peteghem,, the patriarch and matriarch of the wealthy, thoroughly oblivious family on holiday along the shores of northern France, where they encounter the Brufort clan, lower class folks in the business of ferrying people across the bay of the title, and in the habit of selectively eating their clientele. Just enjoy the fruits of Dumont’s mercilessly twisted vision. —Andy Crump
1. 20th Century Women
Director: Mike Mills
The feeling of watching writer-director Mike Mills’ 20th Century Women is akin to that of witnessing a mind working through the twisted byways of his characters’ psyches and his themes as if digesting his thoughts right in front of us. He’s unafraid of breaking away from the film’s major arcs for the sake of digressions that fill us in on both historical context and characters’ backstories.
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That embrace of irresolution extends to the characters themselves, all of whom show many different sides to us, with Mills showing no interest in neatly explaining away their contradictions. 20th Century Women almost feels like a dialectical essay disguised as a comedy-drama—a late-period Jean-Luc Godard movie except with actual flesh-and-blood human beings instead of glorified mouthpieces for his philosophical aphorisms.
The patchwork narrative style vividly expresses the confusion at the heart of these characters and of the time period in U.S. history it evokes: a country hinging on the precipice between the relative selfless idealism of the 1970s and the rampant materialistic self-interest of the 1980s. It’s a large subject for any movie to tackle, but the beauty of 20th Century Women is that the warmly empathetic Mills never loses track of the characters’ anguished beating hearts. —Kenji Fujishima