Notifications
×
Subscribe
Unsubscribe
NYT

NYT what to watch

In times like these, I bet you’d love a list of great NYT TV shows that will help you escape the troubles of the world. My apologies. I didn’t plan it this way, but looking over my favorites below, the subject matter includes class conflict, civil war, the threat to democracy, and multiple pandemics.

And yet! Watching TV in 2021 was not at all a bummer for me. Because what I also find on this list is ingenuity, humor, defiance, empathy, and hope: the things that we need, more than a distraction, to get through tough times, and the things that art exists to give us.


Any 10-best TV list these days requires some caveats. Are there really 10? I may have engaged in creative math. Are they really the best? They are the best I’ve seen; nobody, not even a professional, can see everything these days. Are these all really TV shows? What aren’t these days? Most of my picks this year appeared not on TV channels (ask your grandparents what those are) but on streaming services. But however it gets to your screen, the important thing is that it gets in your eyeballs. Here, in alphabetical order, are the best things I put in mine.

‘Bo Burnham: Inside’ (Netflix) NYT

What does the internet sound like? What does it feel like? Only a handful of artworks have tried to describe it: among them, in 2021, Patricia Lockwood’s novel “No One Is Talking About This” and “Inside,” the comedic-musical-video equivalent of what another age might have called a concept album. In this masterpiece by the director-comic-YouTuber Burnham, the internet sounds like a carnival barker (“Could I interest you in everything all of the time?”) and feels like a nervous breakdown.

Combining personal angst with the shut-in experience of the pandemic and the sensory overload of digital life, Burnham captures the particular madness of social-media existence, in which the voices outside your head become the voices inside it. (Streaming on Netflix.)

‘Dickinson’ (Apple TV+) NYT

Apple TV+ gave us a world-class comedy about empathy and the importance of living by one’s passions. It also gave us “Ted Lasso.” The streaming platform’s best series depicted Emily Dickinson (Hailee Steinfeld) not as a literary recluse but as an ambitious, lyric-drunk artist hungry to live and work. The creator, Alena Smith, gave the series an absurdist sensibility that nonetheless took its literary and Civil War-era history seriously. It burned short and bright, premiering both its second and its third and final seasons in 2021. But at least, as opposed to its subject’s work, we were able to appreciate “Dickinson” in its own time. (Streaming on Apple TV+.)

‘The Good Fight’ (Paramount+) NYT

What could the essential drama of the Trump era possibly have to say after the Trump presidency? Plenty. Season 5 of this legal series was a surreal ride haunted by the George Floyd protests and the Jan. 6 attack on democracy. Its sneakiest gambit was a story arc about Hal Wacker (Mandy Patinkin), an amateur judge who set up a court in a Chicago copy shop. A quirky running joke became a chilling lesson in how the law is only as strong as people’s willingness to believe in it — a fitting punchline for an age when clownery can turn deadly serious. (Streaming on Paramount+.)

‘Hacks’ (HBO Max) and ‘Reservation Dogs’ (FX on Hulu)

The year’s two best new comedy series were love stories disguised as hate stories. In “Hacks,” a late-career Vegas comic (an incendiary Jean Smart) and her millennial apprentice (Hannah Einbinder) form an insult-comedy partnership that blooms into respect. Likewise, the four central teens of “Dogs” tell you immediately why they can’t wait to escape their Oklahoma reservation town. But what follows over the first season, from Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi (“What We Do in the Shadows”), is the kind of deep character comedy, rich detail, and community portraiture that can only come from loving the thing you want to leave. (Streaming on HBO Max and Hulu.)

‘It’s a Sin’ (HBO Max)

Russell T Davies’s requiem for the lives lost to AIDS in the 1980s was as heartbreaking and furious as you might have expected. What you might not have expected was how vibrant, joyous, and even funny it was — a story of wasteful death that derived its power from being full of life. (Streaming on HBO Max.)

‘Philly D.A.’ (PBS) NYT

The documentary filmmakers Ted Passon and Yoni Brook captured no trial scenes because of restrictions on shooting, but the sweeping story of efforts to reform the Philadelphia district attorney’s office involved themes of policing, security, and equality far beyond the courthouse walls. District Attorney Larry Krasner (who won re-election in November) made for a prickly, passionate protagonist, but this was really the story of a city and a country. (Streaming on PBS.org and Topic.)

‘Station Eleven’ (HBO Max) NYT

This limited series, which arrives Dec. 16, is about a global pandemic that wipes out most of humanity, and I am assuming I’ve scared off at least half of you already. But hear me out: The adaptation by Patrick Somerville (“The Leftovers”) of the 2014 novel by Emily St. John Mandel is moving, eccentrically funny, and even hopeful. Following a Shakespeare troupe that travels the Midwest 20 years after doomsday, it invites us to ask what we want to survive us after we’ve done the old mortal-coil shuffle. (Streaming on HBO Max beginning Dec. 16.)

‘Succession’ (HBO)NYT

The zero-sum corporate squid game that is “Succession” became a civil war in Season 3, as the Roys met the enemy and it was them. Among a uniformly great cast, Jeremy Strong had a stellar season as the renegade scion Kendall, trying to reinvent himself as a gold-plated whistleblower but crashing up against his weakness and self-doubt. (Caveat: I included this show without having seen the Dec. 12 season finale. But having to make a risky decision with limited information is about the most “Succession” thing a TV list-maker could do.) (Streaming on HBO Max.)

‘The Underground Railroad’ (Amazon Prime Video) NYT

Colson Whitehead’s tour de force novel was an escape-from-slavery story with a twist: The “railroad” carrying people to slavery was physical and real. In his transfixing limited-series adaptation, the director Barry Jenkins did not just create the railroad. He built a series of palaces. Stunningly composed, with a score and sound design that made its world tactile, “The Underground Railroad” was a tour of an alternative America that distorted reality in order to render it more truly. (Streaming on Amazon.)

‘The White Lotus’ (HBO)

Acerbic and generous, vicious and transcendent, Mike White’s story of elites on holiday in Hawaii was the summer’s best getaway. It was cuttingly funny about the privileged and their demands — from the help, from one another and from the universe. Its nuanced dialogue and acute performances (Jennifer Coolidge and Murray Bartlett were two standouts among many) made for a package tour of class conflict and self-discovery, all for one high, high price. (Streaming on HBO Max.)

Best International Shows of 2021 NYT

International television got a big boost in the American consciousness this year with the commotion surrounding “Squid Game,” Netflix’s cynical South Korean thriller. But shows from outside the United States have been a defining, even dominating part of the TV and streaming mix for more than a decade now; they just have to be found. Here, in alphabetical order, are the 10 that moved me most among the new shows and seasons that had their U.S. premieres in 2021.

‘Call My Agent!’ (Netflix) NYT

A comic soap opera, a melodramatic comedy — the elements are in perfect balance in this French series about a tempestuous Paris talent agency that is always on the brink of implosion. The comedy comes in because everyone is always working an angle; the sentiment is because at the end of the day, the agents at ASK really do care about their clients and one another. The fourth season maintained the show’s method of simultaneously satirizing and affectionately fetishizing.

those A-list clients, many of whom appear as themselves — Sigourney Weaver asking an agent to slice her breakfast pastry. Sandrine Kiberlain negotiated a midlife crisis by embarking on a career in stand-up. The headwinds for ASK were worse than ever, though, and melodrama had the upper hand; the season ended with what was clearly meant to be a series finale. Now that a fifth season (and a film) have been ordered, the writers eventually will have to come up with another way to end the series. (Streaming on Netflix.)

‘C.B. Strike: Lethal White’ (HBO)

The BBC’s adaptations of J.K. Rowling’s Cormoran Strike mystery novels reached a new peak with the fourth series, a story of blackmail and familial depravity. Tom Burke and Holliday Grainger work wonderfully together as Cormoran. A moody London detective and his former secretary turned partner. Robin Ellacott, both of whom carry burdens of post-traumatic stress — each must always be aware of when the other is in danger, physically and emotionally. In the course of “Lethal White,” Robin marries and then pulls away from the rigid Matthew (Kerr Logan), leaving the field open for more barely suppressed, the furiously awkward sexual tension between her and Cormoran. The next installment, “Troubled Blood,” is scheduled to begin filming in early 2022. (Streaming on HBO Max.)

‘D.P.’ (Netflix) NYT

The popular Korean drama star Jung Hae-in goes decidedly unromantic. As a soldier assigned to a unit that tracks down and brings back deserters. A task for which the recruit’s unflagging sense of duty makes him perfect and his compassion makes him perfectly unsuited. The show veers between slapstick action and overflowing sentiment, like many South Korean dramas. And the pursuit and apprehension of the deserters involve a lot of punching, slapping, tackling, tasing, and hitting with baseball bats. But the show is also a sensitive and forthright examination of how violent, sadistic bullying. And rigid hierarchies drive young South Korean men to go to almost any length to escape their compulsory military service. (Streaming on Netflix.)

‘Forbrydelsen’ (Topic)

Yes, this old-school, supremely satisfying mystery series ended its run in Denmark nine years ago. After spawning an American remake called “The Killing.” (The Danish title translates as “The Crime”). But when Topic made all three seasons available this year. It was the first time that the show that put Nordic noir over the top had streamed or been broadcast in the United States. Now you can finally catch up with Sofie Grabol’s commanding performance as the emotionally distant. Doggedly persistent detective (and, during one bad patch, border guard) Sarah Lund. (Streaming on Topic.) NYT

Gomorrah’ (HBO Max)

It was a good year, in at least one way, for fans of this mostly riveting Neapolitan gangster saga. After an agonizingly long gap because of rights issues. The third and fourth seasons arrived in the United States within months of each other. Season 3 ended badly, both for one of the major characters and for viewers disappointed by the predictability and hokiness of the season’s finale. And Season 4 got right back on track, with the bonus of an expanded role — and a love interest! — for Cristiana Dell’Anna’s compelling character, the accidental drug dealer Patrizia. (Streaming on HBO Max.)

‘In My Skin’ (Hulu)

Gabrielle Creevy pulls off a difficult trick in this kitchen-sink coming-of-age story set in Wales. She keeps us on the side of a teenager, named Bethan. Whose defenses are so forbidding and so constant that she can be very hard to put up with. The second and final season of Kayleigh Llewellyn’s BBC Three dramedy took the smart, sarcastic, self-hating. Bethan through high school, and through another harrowing series of ups and downs with her bipolar mother. Therefore they Played with heartbreaking grace by Jo Hartley. (Streaming on Hulu.) NYT

nyt what to watcThe 50 Best Movies on Netflix Right Now

The sheer volume of films on Netflix — and the site’s less than ideal interface — can make finding a genuinely great movie there a difficult task. To help, we’ve plucked out the 50 best films currently streaming on the service in the United States, updated regularly as titles come and go. And as a bonus, we link to more great movies on Netflix within many of our write-ups below. (Note: Streaming services sometimes remove titles or change starting dates without giving notice.)

Here are our lists of the best TV shows on Netflix, the best movies on Amazon Prime Video and the best of everything on Hulu and Disney Plus.

From left, Tyrin Turner and Larenz Tate in “Menace II Society.”

The twin brothers Allen and Albert Hughes were only 21 years old when their debut feature roared onto screens in 1993, bursting with youthful energy. They marshal a sharp visual style and an immersive soundtrack to capture the unpredictability and intensity of South Central Los Angeles in the early ’90s, crafting an updated riff on Martin Scorsese’s “Mean Streets.” Our critic praised the picture’s “intense, painful believability” and “crackling ensemble acting,” including then-newcomers Larenz Tate and Jada Pinkett and, in a brief but effective supporting role, the rising star Samuel L. Jackson.

Watch on Netflix

In “Happy Feet,” Elijah Wood voices Mumble, an emperor penguin unable to attract a mate with his song.

George Miller has one of the more fascinating dual filmographies in cinema. On one hand, he has created and directed fiercely visceral and unapologetically violent action epics like “Mad Max,” for a decidedly adult audience. On the other, he has given us some very enjoyable family movies, including the “Babe” films and “Happy Feet,” which was nominated for best animated feature Oscar and boasts “a remarkable persistence of vision,” our critic writes. Elijah Wood voices Mumble, an emperor penguin unable to attract a mate with his song. Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, Brittany Murphy and Robin Williams are among the impressive voice cast. (For more high-spirited family fun, check out “Paddington.”)

Watch on Netflix

In “A River Runs Through It,” Brad Pitt is a troubled son whose father can’t seem to find the words to help him.

‘A River Runs Through It’ (1992)

Brad Pitt was only one year out from his breakthrough role in “Thelma and Louise” when he starred in this lyrical adaptation by Robert Redford of the story collection by Norman Maclean. Pitt and Craig Sheffer star as the sons of a Montana minister (Tom Skerritt) as they come of age, and come apart, in the early 20th century. It is “ravishingly photographed” (Philippe Rousselot’s cinematography won an Oscar and deserved it), and it was a cable standby for years after. But it is more than comfort food. Redford’s subtle direction resists empty nostalgia in favor of a nuanced portrait of shifting values and mores.

Watch on Netflix

Paul Newman, left, and Tom Hanks in “Road to Perdition.”

Tom Hanks found a rare opportunity to explore his darker side in this crime drama, adapted from the graphic novel by Max Allan Collins (itself inspired by the classic manga “Lone Wolf and Cub”). Hanks stars as Michael Sullivan Sr., a Depression-era enforcer for the Irish mob who must flee his Illinois home when he crosses the son (Daniel Craig) of his longtime boss and father figure (an Oscar-nominated Paul Newman, in one of his final roles). The director Sam Mendes and his “American Beauty” cinematographer Conrad L. Hall create “a truly majestic visual tone poem,” both gorgeous and melancholy, pushing past the surface pleasures of its period genre setting with timeless themes of family, morality and mortality. (Hanks is also excellent in “Forrest Gump” and “The Green Mile.”)

Watch on Netflix

Editors’ Picks

Natalie Portman and Jude Law in “Closer.”

In 1971, the director Mike Nichols scored one of his greatest critical and commercial successes with “Carnal Knowledge,” a savagely funny and brutally candid account of the war between the sexes, as seen through the broken relationships of two men and two women. Near the end of his career, Nichols revisited the subject matter with a similar cast makeup, adapting the play “Closer” by Patrick Marber. Jude Law, Clive Owen, Natalie Portman and Julia Roberts craft some of their best screen acting to date. It’s a challenging movie, but a great one — “vigorous, compulsive, sometimes painful and occasionally funny,” per A.O. Scott.

Watch on Netflix

Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal in “When Harry Met Sally.”

The director Rob Reiner and the screenwriter Nora Ephron all but defined the contemporary romantic comedy with this sparkling, charming and uproariously funny story of an attractive woman (Meg Ryan) and man (Billy Crystal) who test their theories about if men and women can be friends. Stretching from their post-grad years to their early 30s, Harry and Sally’s story is filled with quotable dialogue, colorful characters and one of the great punchlines in modern comedy (“I’ll have what she’s having”). But it’s also a thoughtful exploration of gender roles and romantic expectations, and by the time Reiner and Ephron arrive at their lush Year’s Eve wrap-up, they’ve earned the extravagance. (Reiner’s “Stand By Me” is also on Netflix; rom-com fans will also enjoy “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.”)

Watch on Netflix

Jake Gyllenhaal in “Nightcrawler.”

Nothing less than a 21st-century “Taxi Driver,” this sleek and disturbing nocturnal thriller from the writer-director Dan Gilroy concerns a smiling sociopath (Jake Gyllenhaal) who fakes his way into the world of television news with his visceral photography of crime scenes and accidents. But a taste of fame only leaves him wanting more, and it soon becomes clear that he’ll do just about anything to get a good story — including create one. Gyllenhaal is eerily convincing as the moral void at the story’s center — the movie also stars Rene Russo and Riz Ahmed — while Gilroy’s crackerjack script rolls to a steady boil of dread and dismay, refusing to absolve viewers of their own complicity. (For a throwback urban crime thriller, try “Dirty Harry.”)

Watch on Netflix

Tom Wilkinson (behind glass) and George Clooney in the 2007 film "Michael Clayton."

George Clooney turns in a towering performance as the title character, a “fixer” for a powerful New York law firm who’s grown tired of cleaning up the messes of the morally reprehensible. But there are no easy exits in this world, dreamed up by the writer-director Tony Gilroy as a sleek and shrewd snapshot of corporate malfeasance. He creates a showcase role for Tilda Swinton, who won an Oscar for her portrayal of a ruthless power broker whose confidence is diminishing by the minute. Manohla Dargis deemed it “adult, sincere, intelligent, absorbing.” (Other recent Oscar winners on Netflix include “Darkest Hour” and “Argo.”)

Watch on Netflix

A scene from “Saving Private Ryan” showing American forces storming the beaches of Normandy on D-Day.

Steven Spielberg won his second Academy Award for best director with this World War II epic that our critic called “soberly magnificent.” The film fuses the types and tropes of vintage war pictures with a less romanticized view of the horrors of combat. The virtuosic, nearly dialogue-free, over 20-minute-long recreation of the Omaha Beach landing at the start of the film is as vivid and visceral a demonstration that “war is hell” as has ever been put to celluloid. And while the story that follows — a no-nonsense captain (Tom Hanks) leads his shell-shocked unit into Normandy in an attempt to find the sole surviving son (Matt Damon) of a battle-torn family — may be less intense, it’s no less powerful.

Watch on Netflix

Joaquin Phoenix in “Her,” directed by Spike Jonze.

Spike Jonze won an Oscar for best original screenplay for this dramatization of a future in which a smartphone’s Siri-style personal assistant system proves so supportive, helpful and (yes) seductive that one could just … fall in love with it. That’s the conundrum faced by Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), an introverted greeting card writer who rebounds from a painful divorce by intensifying his relationship with the “Samantha” operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). A lesser filmmaker might twist the premise into a broad, dopey comedy. But Jonze goes further, exploring how Theodore’s depression and social dysfunction made the inexplicable connection seem not only safe but logical. (For another unconventional romance, try “Phantom Thread.”)

Watch on Netflix

From left, Michael J. Pollard, Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty in “Bonnie and Clyde” (1967).

“This here’s Miss Bonnie Parker. I’m Clyde Barrow. We rob banks.” With those simple but accurate words, the producer and star Warren Beatty helped kick off a whole new movement of subversive, challenging, youth-oriented moviemaking. Directed by Arthur Penn, the film initially received mixed responses — our critic dismissed it as “a cheap piece of bald-faced slapstick” — but in the passing years, its power and influence became undeniable. Every performance is a gem, but Beatty and Faye Dunaway rarely rose to this level in their other work, mixing sexuality, danger, restlessness and ennui.

Watch on Netflix

Al Pacino, center, breaking up a fight between Jamie Foxx, left, and LL Cool J, in a scene from from Oliver Stone's “Any Given Sunday.”

Oliver Stone took on the world of professional football — and all of the scandal, bad behavior, greed and ego within it — in this wildly entertaining and deliciously stylish drama. Al Pacino is in top form as a passionate and increasingly desperate coach trying to hold his team together when his longtime star quarterback (Dennis Quaid), out on injury, is replaced by a hotshot up-and-comer (Jamie Foxx). Stone orchestrates his large and eclectic ensemble cast (which also includes Cameron Diaz, Charlton Heston, LL Cool J, Ann-Margret, Matthew Modine and James Woods), but the real draw here is the “viscerally charged, razzle-dazzle” game play sequences, which crank up the intensity and violence to a level approaching that of Stone’s war movies. (Pacino is also terrific in the mob drama “Donnie Brasco.”)

Watch on Netflix

Lee Ermey in a scene from “Full Metal Jacket,” a 1987 film by Stanley Kubrick.

This vivid and disturbing grunt’s-eye view of the war in Vietnam combines elements of Gustav Hasford’s novel “The Short-Timers”; the war reporting of Michael Herr (who helped write the screenplay); and the distinctive eye of its director, Stanley Kubrick. Its best scenes come early, in the basic-training battle between a cruel drill sergeant (R. Lee Ermey) and the heavyset new recruit he singles out for abuse (Vincent D’Onofrio). But Kubrick maintains a sense of relentless discomfort and complicated morality throughout the picture, which functions as a probing examination of the Vietnam War and of the mental toll it took on the men who fought it.

Watch on Netflix

Ethan Hawke in "Gattaca,” a sci-fi nightmare in which a human’s fate is written in their genes.

In this thoughtful drama that emphasizes the science in science fiction, the writer and director Andrew Niccol dramatizes a not-too-distant future in which privileged children are genetically engineered before birth. This “handsome and fully imagined work,” as our critic put it, is unapologetically brainy in a manner reminiscent of “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “THX 1138,” daring to imagine that provocative ideas are just as thrilling as chases and shoot-outs. But it’s not just a think piece; Niccol works playfully within the conventions of not only dystopian sci-fi but also mystery and film noir, throwing in a dash of other-side-of-the-tracks romance for extra spice. (Sci-fi fans should also check out “Blade Runner 2049.”)

Watch on Netflix

From left, Winona Ryder, Trini Alvarado, Kirsten Dunst, Susan Sarandon and Claire Danes in “Little Women” (1994).

Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel “Little Women” isn’t a stranger to film adaptation — earlier movie versions date back to the silent era — but this 1994 take from the director Gillian Armstrong (“My Brilliant Career”) adroitly pitches the film to modern audiences without condescending to its old-fashioned sentimentality. Handsomely staged and marvelously acted, this is a first-rate introduction to one of the great works of young adult literature. Our critic called it “the loveliest ‘Little Women’ ever onscreen.”

Watch on Netflix

Olivia Colman in “The Lost Daughter,” based on an Elena Ferrante novel.

The actor-turned-filmmaker Maggie Gyllenhaal writes and directs this adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s novel, starring Olivia Colman as a professor on vacation whose strained interactions with a large, unruly American family — particularly a young, stressed mother (Dakota Johnson) — send her down a rabbit hole of her memories, a switch-flip intermingling of past and present. There is a bit of back story to untangle, which turns the film into something like a mystery. But “The Lost Daughter” is mostly noteworthy for its willingness to explore the darkest moments of parenthood, the horrible feeling of giving up and longing for escape. Colman brings humanity and even warmth to a difficult character, while Jessie Buckley beautifully connects the dots as her younger iteration. Our critic calls it “a sophisticated, elusively plotted psychological thriller.” (The Gyllenhaal vehicle “The Kindergarten Teacher” is similarly unnerving.)

Watch on Netflix

Charlize Theron in the film “Monster.”

Charlize Theron underwent a miraculous physical transformation to play the real-life serial killer Aileen Wuornos, rendering herself all but unrecognizable in the process. But the power of her Oscar-winning performance goes much deeper. Theron manages to provoke both fear and sympathy with her portrayal, capturing not only Wuornos’s rage and dangerousness but also her love for a kind woman (Christina Ricci, also excellent), whom she hopes, against the odds, can save her. The director, Patty Jenkins (who later helmed “Wonder Woman”), makes no apologies for Wuornos’s acts, but neither does she minimize them, telling the story with grace and nuance and allowing her actors the space to bring these haunted souls to life. (“Tangerine” is a lighter look at life on the fringes.)

Watch on Netflix

Jeff Bridges, left, and Hailee Steinfeld in a scene from “True Grit.”

The Coen Brothers “beautifully adapted” the 1969 John Wayne classic (and the Charles Portis novel that inspired it) in this, their first traditional western, and the genre proved a perfect fit for their grandiose characters, colloquial dialogue style and cockeyed worldview. Jeff Bridges is a hoot, situating his Marshal Rooster Cogburn as a hybrid of Wayne, the Dude from “The Big Lebowski” and your crotchety grandfather, but the show-stealer is the newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, an absolute firecracker as the young woman who hires Cogburn to track down her father’s killer. (Western fans should also check out “The Quick and the Dead,” from the Coen brothers’ friend and collaborator Sam Raimi.)

Watch on Netflix

Gene Hackman and Rebecca Pidgeon in “Heist.”

David Mamet, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and, most often, director of intimate chamber pieces, tried his hand at action filmmaking for the first time in this crime thriller that A.O. Scott deemed a “solid entertainment.” The story is an old chestnut: A master thief (played with stern confidence by Gene Hackman) wants to sail off into the sunset, but is pressed into doing One Last Big Score by his frequent fence (Danny DeVito), who insists that his hot-headed nephew (Sam Rockwell) come along. But Mamet crafts the picture with wit and winking intelligence; we know the beats of a movie like this, and he knows that we know. So while the details of the job, and its subsequent betrayals and double-crosses, are both familiar and ingenious, his quotable dialogue and the explosive chemistry of the top-tier cast (which also includes the great character actors Delroy Lindo and Ricky Jay) keep things hopping.

Watch on Netflix

From left, Andrew Garfield, Joseph Mazzello, Jesse Eisenberg and Patrick Mapel in “The Social Network.”

The unlikely marriage of the screwball-inspired screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and the chilly visual stylist David Fincher birthed one of the finest works of both their careers, a “fleet, weirdly funny, exhilarating, alarming and fictionalized” account of the early days of Facebook and its founder, Mark Zuckerberg (brought to sneering, hard-edge life by Jesse Eisenberg). Sorkin’s ingenious, Oscar-winning script spins the Facebook origin story as a Silicon Valley “Citizen Kane,” dazzlingly hopscotching through flashbacks and framing devices. But the ruthlessness of Fincher’s cleareyed direction is what brings the picture together, presciently framing Zuckerberg as the media mogul of the future — and hinting at the trouble that entails. (Sorkin’s “Molly ’s Game” is also on Netflix.)

Watch on Netflix

Gugu Mbatha-Raw in “Fast Color,” directed by Julia Hart.

Most superhero movies clobber the viewer with special effects, smirking quips and strained world-building; Julia Hart’s indie drama is barely a superhero movie at all, but a rich, tender character study of three women who just so happen to move objects with their minds. Gugu Mbatha-Raw is remarkable as Ruth, who has smothered her “abilities” in addiction and irresponsibility, returning home to join her mother (Lorraine Toussaint) and daughter (Saniyya Sidney) in an attempt to, well, save the world. Hart’s rich screenplay (written with Jordan Horowitz) vibrates with small-town authenticity and hard-earned emotion; our critic called it “a small, intimate story that hints at much bigger things.” (For more indie drama, try “We the Animals.”)

Watch on Netflix

A fascinating portrait of a superstar heavy metal group at a crossroads, “Some Kind of Monster” finds Metallica all but falling apart, with the musicians barely able to contain their hostility toward one another as they try to piece together an album The result is what A.O. Scott called “a psychodrama of novelistic intricacy and epic scope.” Voyeuristic and compelling, it’s a film about the nuts and bolts of making an album — but it’s also about celebrity behavior, and the kind of psychobabble and walking-on-eggshells approaches that these bandmates must employ to continue abiding each other into middle age. (Music documentary lovers will also enjoy “What Happened, Miss Simone?”)

Watch on Netflix

Benedict Cumberbatch in “The Power of the Dog,” a film directed by Jane Campion.

“I wonder what little lady made these?” Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch), asks about the paper flowers created by Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee) — the first indication of the initial theme of Jane Campion’s new film, an adaptation of the novel by Thomas Savage. Phil is a real piece of work, and when his brother and ranching partner George (Jesse Plemons) marries Peter’s mother, Rose (Kirsten Dunst), it brings all of Phil’s resentment and nastiness to the surface as he tries, in multiple, hostile ways, to exert his dominance and display his dissatisfaction. That tension and conflict would be enough for a lesser filmmaker, but Campion burrows deeper, taking a carefully executed turn to explore his complicated motives — and desires in this film of welcome complexity and unexpected tenderness; Manohla Dargis called it “a great American story and a dazzling evisceration of one of the country’s foundational myths.”

Watch on Netflix

Terrick Trobough in “Procession,” a documentary directed by Robert Greene.

The films of the director Robert Greene (including “Bisbee ’17” and “Kate Plays Christine”) live at the intersection of documentary, drama and process, intermingling fact, fictionalization and the difficulties of pursuing that most elusive of goals, truth. That mixture is particularly effective here, as the filmmaker spent three years collaborating with a professional drama therapist and six survivors of sexual abuse by Catholic priests in the Midwest to create a series of scenes inspired by their experiences — and the considerable emotional fallout that ensued. It’s a deeply moving and blisteringly powerful account of survival and support. (Documentary aficionados may also enjoy “Misha and the Wolves.”)

Watch on Netflix

From left, Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson in “Passing.”

“She’s a girl from Chicago I used to know,” Irene (Tessa Thompson) says of Clare (Ruth Negga) — a statement that is accurate on the surface but that contains volumes of history, tension and secrets. Irene and Clare are both light-skinned Black women who have made different choices about how to live their lives, but when they reconnect, they are both prompted to reckon with who, exactly, they are. The screenplay and direction by Rebecca Hall (adapting Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel) delicately yet precisely plumbs their psychological depths and wounds, and the sumptuous costumes and immaculate black and white cinematography serve as dazzling counterpoints to what Manohla Dargis called “an anguished story of identity and belonging.”

Watch on Netflix

Aisling Franciosi in “The Nightingale” by Jennifer Kent.

Jennifer Kent, the writer and director of the terrifying “The Babadook,” returns with this “rigorous, relentless” riff on revenge narratives and Hollywood westerns, refracted through the prism of white supremacy and violent patriarchy. Aisling Franciosi stars as an Irish woman in 19th-century Tasmania who embarks on a perhaps ill-advised crusade for justice after a brutal assault by a powerful commander. But such a summary makes “The Nightingale” sound like a straightforward story of good and evil; Kent complicates her characters at every turn and causes us to question which side we’re on. It’s a long, brutal, difficult picture, but an undeniably powerful one.

Watch on Netflix

From left, Sam Bottoms, Frederic Forrest and Martin Sheen in a scene from the 2001 film “Apocalypse Now Redux,” that did not appear in the 1979 original.

Francis Ford Coppola’s loose, Vietnam-era adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” was a notoriously troubled production, harassed by weather woes, political struggles, budget and schedule overages and problems with actors. Considering how much drama occurred offscreen, it’s somewhat miraculous that the final product is so singular and powerful — an awe-inspiring fusion of ’60s psychedelic film, ’70s genre reimagining and classic wide-screen epic, its ambition even more striking in this extended “Redux” cut from 2001. Our critic called it “a stunning work.”

Watch on Netflix

Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler and Elizabeth Marvel in “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected).”

Everyone in the Meyerowitz family has an ax to grind, from the aging sculptor father worried about his legacy (Dustin Hoffman) to his current, perpetually inebriated wife (Emma Thompson) to his adult children (Elizabeth Marvel, Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller), who have spent their lives trying to please their father and are all screwed up because of it. The writer and director Noah Baumbach conveys their insecurities slyly, via their skittish interactions with their father and each other, and he masterfully makes their tribulations both wittily specific and richly universal. It’s a dryly funny and surprisingly moving serio-comic drama; our critic praised its “near-perfect balance between engagement and discomfort.” (Baumbach’s “Marriage Story is also on Netflix.)

Watch on Netflix

Jason Mitchell, left, and Garrett Hedlund in “Mudbound.”

In this powerful adaptation by the director Dee Rees of the novel by Hillary Jordan, two families — one white and one Black — are connected by a plot of land in the Jim Crow South. Rees gracefully tells both stories (and the larger tale of postwar America) without veering into didacticism, and her ensemble cast brings every moment of text and subtext into sharp focus. Our critic called it a work of “disquieting, illuminating force.” (For more period drama, queue up “The Beguiled” and “Crimson Peak.”)

Watch on Netflix

Ray Liotta in the 2012 film “Killing Them Softly.”

Brad Pitt teamed up again with Andrew Dominik, the writer and director of “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” for this “grisly little crime movie,” adapted from the novel “Cogan’s Trade.” Pitt and James Gandolfini (in one of his final roles) star as two contract killers sent by their mob bosses to take out a group of small-timers who robbed the wrong poker game. But “Softly” is neither a traditional gangster movie nor a Tarantino-style hit-man flick. Dominik sets the film during the 2008 financial crisis and presidential election, the better to situate his central thesis: that capitalism and organized crime aren’t as far apart as we might like to think. (Crime film aficionados will also enjoy “Once Upon a Time in America.”)

Watch on Netflix

From left, Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper star in “Silver Linings Playbook."

Jennifer Lawrence won the Oscar for best actress for her spectacularly sassy and unapologetically haunted performance in David O. Russell’s (somewhat loose) adaptation of Matthew Quick’s novel. It’s a balancing act of seemingly contradictory tones and styles, slipping nimbly from serious mental-health drama to screwball comedy to romance thanks to the deceptive casualness of Russell’s approach and the skill of his cast — particularly Bradley Cooper as its unsteady protagonist and Robert De Niro and Jackie Weaver (all also Oscar nominees) as his parents. Our critic called it “exuberant” and “a delight.” (De Niro also received an Oscar nomination for “Awakenings”; For a similarly complicated portrayal of mental health struggles, see “Girl, Interrupted.”)

Watch on Netfli

From left, Jeremy Brett, Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison in “My Fair Lady,” directed by George Cukor.

George Cukor’s energetic adaptation of the Broadway musical (itself an adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion”) won an astonishing eight Academy Awards, including best picture, best director and best actor, and it remains one of the cornerstones of the movie musical genre. Audrey Hepburn shines as Eliza Doolittle, the lower-class Cockney flower girl who the phonetics professor Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison) believes he can turn into a proper lady my merely refining her speech. Alan Jay Lerner’s intelligent script carefully navigates issues of sex and class while concocting a credible “opposites attract” chemistry between the leads. Our critic called it “a film that enchantingly conveys the rich endowments of the famous stage production in a fresh and flowing cinematic form.” (Fans of classic movie musicals should also check out “White Christmas.”)

Watch on Netfli

Emayatzy Corinealdi in “Middle of Nowhere,” a film directed by Ava DuVernay.

Ava DuVernay won the directing award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival for this sensitive, thoughtful and moving drama. Our critic Manohla Dargis noted, “she wants you to look, really look, at her characters,” seeing past the clichés and assumptions of so many other movies, as she tells the story of Ruby (Emayatzy Corinealdi), a young nurse whose husband (Omari Hardwick) is in prison. Ruby dutifully visits, and keeps a candle burning at home, but when a kind bus driver (David Oyelowo) takes a shine to her, she begins to question her choices and allegiances. Corinealdi is a marvelous presence, playing the role with empathy and complexity, and the considerable charisma of Oyelowo — who would team up again with DuVernay for “Selma” — makes her dilemma all the more difficult.

Watch on Netflix

From left, Chadwick Boseman, Colman Domingo, Viola Davis, Michael Potts and Glynn Turman in "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom."

The acclaimed stage director George C. Wolfe brings August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize winner to the screen, quite faithfully — which is just fine, as a play this good requires little in the way of “opening up,” so rich are the characters and so loaded is the dialogue. The setting is a Chicago music studio in 1927, where the “Mother of the Blues” Ma Rainey (Viola Davis) and her band are meeting to record several of her hits, though that business is frequently disrupted by the tensions within the group over matters both personal and artistic. Davis is superb as Rainey, chewing up her lines and spitting them out with contempt at anyone who crosses her, and Chadwick Boseman, who died in 2020 and won a posthumous Golden Globe best actor award for his performance, is electrifying as the showy sideman, Levee, a boiling pot of charisma, flash and barely concealed rage. A.O. Scott calls the film “a powerful and pungent reminder of the necessity of art.” (Boseman is also brilliant as the baseball player Jackie Robinson in “42.”)

Watch on Netflix

From left, Wunmi Mosaku as Rial Majur, and Sope Dirisu as Bol Majur, in “His House.”

Genre filmmakers have spent the past three years trying (and mostly failing) to recreate the magic elixir of horror thrills and social commentary that made “Get Out” so special, but few have come as close as the British director Remi Weekes’s terrifying and thought-provoking Netflix thriller. He tells the story of two South Sudanese refugees seeking asylum in London, who are placed in public housing — a residence they are forbidden from leaving, which becomes a problem when things start going bump in the night. In a masterly fashion Weekes expands this simple haunted-house premise into a devastating examination of grief and desperation, but sacrifices no scares along the way, making “His House” a rare movie that prompts both tears and goose bumps. (For more horror, queue up “The Exorcist” and “It Follows.”)

Watch on Netfli

Dick Johnson in his daughter Kirsten Johnson’s film “Dick Johnson Is Dead.”

“I’ve always wanted to be in the movies,” Dick Johnson tells his daughter Kirsten, and he’s in luck — she makes them, documentaries mostly, dealing with the biggest questions of life and death. So they turn his struggle with Alzheimer’s and looming mortality into a movie, a “resonant and, in moments, profound” one (per Manohla Dargis), combining staged fake deaths and heavenly reunions with difficult familial interactions. He’s an affable fellow, warm and constantly chuckling, and a good sport, cheerfully playing along with these intricate, macabre (and darkly funny) scenarios. But it’s really a film about a father and daughter, and their lifelong closeness gives the picture an intimacy and openness uncommon even in the best documentaries. It’s joyful, and melancholy and moving, all at once.

Watch on Netflix

From left, Marwan Kenzari, Matthias Schoenaerts, Charlize Theron, Luca Marinelli and KiKi Layne in “The Old Guard.”

Gina Prince-Blythewood’s adaptation of Greg Rucka’s comic book series delivers the expected goods: The action beats are crisply executed, the mythology is clearly defined and the pieces are carefully placed for future installments. But that’s not what makes it special. Prince-Blythewood’s background is in character-driven drama (her credits include “Love and Basketball” and “Beyond the Lights”), and the film is driven by its relationships rather than its effects — and by a thoughtful attentiveness to the morality of its conflicts. A.O. Scott deemed it a “fresh take on the superhero genre,” and he’s right; though based on a comic book, it’s far from cartoonish. (For more stylish action, queue up “Looper.”)

Watch on Netfli

A scene from “Da 5 Bloods,” with, from left, Johnny Tri Nguyen, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis and Delroy Lindo.

Spike Lee’s latest is a genre-hopping combination of war movie, protest film, political thriller, character drama and graduate-level history course in which four African-American Vietnam vets go back to the jungle to dig up the remains of a fallen compatriot — and, while they’re at it, a forgotten cache of stolen war gold. In other hands, it could’ve been a conventional back-to-Nam picture or “Rambo”-style action/adventure (and those elements, to be clear, are thrilling). But Lee goes deeper, packing the film with historical references and subtext, explicitly drawing lines from the civil rights struggle of the period to the protests of our moment. A.O. Scott called it a “long, anguished, funny, violent excursion into a hidden chamber of the nation’s heart of darkness.” (For more genre-infused drama, check out “Sleight.”)

Watch on Netfli

Angela Davis, scholar and activist, in “13TH.”

Ava DuVernay (“Selma”) directs this wide-ranging deep dive into mass incarceration, tracing the advent of America’s modern prison system — overcrowded and disproportionately populated by Black inmates — back to the 13th Amendment. It’s a giant topic to take on in 100 minutes, and DuVernay understandably has to do some skimming and slicing. But that necessity engenders its style: “13TH” tears through history with a palpable urgency that pairs nicely with its righteous fury. Our critic called it “powerful, infuriating and at times overwhelming.”

Watch on Netflix

ADVERTISEMENTContinue reading the main stor

A scene from Charlie Kaufman’s “I’m Thinking of Ending Things,” with, from left, Jesse Plemons, Jessie Buckley, Toni Collette and David Thewlis.

Charlie Kaufman writes and directs this mind-bending adaptation of the Iain Reid novel, in which a nervous young woman (Jessie Buckley) accompanies her boyfriend (Jesse Plemons) on a road trip to meet his parents (Toni Collette and David Thewlis). Kaufman intersperses — and often interrupts — the de rigueur scenes of familial discomfort with surrealist imagery, nightmare logic, bizarre parallel stories and events shuffled out of time, bound together with his protagonist’s voice-over narration, a nonstop monologue of verbose uncertainty. A.O. Scott deemed it “Kaufman’s most assured and daring work so far as a director.”

Watch on Netfli

Lucas Hedges and Saoirse Ronan in “Lady Bird.”

Greta Gerwig made her solo feature directorial debut with this funny and piercing coming-of-age story, set in her hometown, Sacramento, Calif. Saoirse Ronan dazzles in the title role as a quietly rebellious high-school senior whose quests for love and popularity bring her long-simmering resentments toward her mother (Laurie Metcalf, magnificent) to a boil. Parent-child conflicts are nothing new in teen stories, but Gerwig’s perceptive screenplay slashes through the familiar types and tropes, daring to create characters that are complicated and flawed, yet deeply sympathetic. A.O. Scott praised the film’s “freshness and surprise.” (“Yes, God, Yes” and “The Edge of Seventeen” are similarly insightful looks at the teenage years.)


Watch on Netfli

A photo taken at Camp Jened in a scene from “Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution.”

“This camp changed the world,” we’re told, in the early moments of James LeBrecht and Nicole Newnham’s documentary, “and nobody knew about it.” The most refreshing and surprising element of this moving chronicle is that, title notwithstanding, the subject is not Camp Jened, the Catskills getaway that offered disabled kids and teens a “normal” summer camp experience. It’s about how that camp was the epicenter of a movement — a place where they could be themselves and live their lives didn’t have to be a utopian ideal, but a notion that they could carry out into the world, and use as a baseline for change. (Documentary fans should also seek out “Elena” and “F.T.A.”)

Watch on Netflix

Marsha P. Johnson in David France’s documentary “The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson.”

The Oscar-nominated director David France (“How to Survive a Plague”) pays overdue tribute to Johnson, affectionately nicknamed the Mayor of Christopher Street, telling the story of her eventful life through interviews with friends and fascinating archival footage. And by framing her story as an investigation into her mysterious death 25 years before — an investigation led by Victoria Cruz, another transgender activist — France draws an explicit and affecting parallel to the violence against transgender women of color today. The result is both a powerful look at our past and a frightening snapshot of our present. (The vintage, and complementary, 1968 documentary “The Queen” is also streaming on Netflix.)

Watch on Netfli

A scene from Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar’s “American Factory.”

Documentary filmmakers have long been fascinated by the logistics and complexities of manual labor, but Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert’s recent Oscar winner for best documentary feature views these issues through a decidedly 21st-century lens. Focusing on a closed GM plant in Dayton, Ohio, that’s taken over by a Chinese auto glass company, Bognar and Reichert thoughtfully, sensitively (and often humorously) explore how cultures — both corporate and general — clash. Manohla Dargis calls it “complex, stirring, timely and beautifully shaped, spanning continents as it surveys the past, present and possible future of American labor.” (Netflix’s documentaries “Icarus” and “Sky Ladder: The Art of Cai Guo-Qiang are also well worth your time.)

Watch on Netfli

Joe Pesci, left, and Robert De Niro in Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman.”

Martin Scorsese reteams with Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci for the first time since “Casino” (1995), itself a return to the organized crime territory of their earlier 1990 collaboration “Goodfellas” — and then adds Al Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa. A lazier filmmaker might merely have put them back together to play their greatest hits. Scorsese does something far trickier, and more poignant: He takes all the elements we expect in a Scorsese gangster movie with this cast, and then he strips it all down, turning this story of turf wars, union battles and power struggles into a chamber piece of quiet conversations and moral contemplation. A.O. Scott called it “long and dark: long like a novel by Dostoyevsky or Dreiser, dark like a painting by Rembrandt.” (Scorsese and De Niro’s “Taxi Driver” is also on Netflix.)

Watch on Netflix

A scene from the Alfonso Cuarón film “Roma.”

This vivid, evocative memory play from Alfonso Cuarón is a story of two Mexican women in the early 1970s: Sofía (Marina de Tavira), a mother of four whose husband (and provider) is on his way out the door, and Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), the family’s nanny, maid and support system. The scenes are occasionally stressful, often heart-wrenching, and they unfailingly burst with life and emotion. Our critic called it “an expansive, emotional portrait of life buffeted by violent forces, and a masterpiece.” (For more character-driven drama, check out “The Two Popes” and “High Flying Bird.”)

Watch on Netfli

Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti in “Private Life.”

Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti shine as two New York creative types whose attempts to start a family — by adoption, by fertilization, by whatever it takes — test the mettle of their relationships and sanity. The wise script by the director Tamara Jenkins is not only funny and truthful but also sharply tuned to their specific world: Few films have better captured the very public nature of marital trouble in New York, when every meltdown is interrupted by passers-by and lookie-loos. “Private Life,” which our critic called “piquant and perfect,” is a marvelous balancing act of sympathy and cynicism, both caring for its subjects and knowing them and their flaws well enough to wink and chuckle. (For more character-driven comedy/drama, add “Friends With Money to your list.)

Watch on Netflix

Merab Ninidze and Ia Shugliashvili in “My Happy Family.”

A 52-year-old Georgian woman shocks her family, and her entire community, when she decides to move out of the cramped apartment she shares with her husband, children and parents in order to begin a life of her own. “In this world, there are no families without problems,” she is told, and the conflicts of the script by Nana Ekvtimishvili (who also directed, with Simon Gross) are a sharp reminder that while the cultural specifics may vary, familial guilt and passive aggression are bound by no language. Manohla Dargis praised its “sardonically funny, touching key.” (For more critically acclaimed foreign drama, try “Happy as Lazzaro,” “Everybody Knows” or “On Body and Soul.”)

Watch on Netflix

Mama Sané and Ibrahima Traoré in “Atlantics,” which won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival.

Mati Diop’s Cannes Film Festival Grand Prix winner is set in Senegal, where a young woman named Ava (Mama Sané) loses the boy she loves to the sea, just days before her arranged marriage to another man. What begins as a story of love lost moves, with the ease and imagination of a particularly satisfying dream, into something far stranger, as Diop savvily works elements of genre cinema into the fabric of a story that wouldn’t seem to accommodate them. A.O. Scott called it “a suspenseful, sensual, exciting movie, and therefore a deeply haunting one as well.” (For similarly out-of-this-world vibes, try Bong Joon Ho’s “Okja.”)

Watch on Netflix

Karen Kaia Livers in “Burning Cane."

The brief running time of Phillip Youmans’s “haunting” debut feature is, in a way, an act of mercy; it is a story of such bleakness and melancholy, of so many lives in various states of distress and despair, that to dig in longer might be more than some viewers can bear. Yet “Burning Cane” is somehow not a depressing experience; its filmmaking is so exhilarating, its performances so electrifying, its sense of time and place so deeply felt that the picture crackles and vibrates like the old blues records that inspired Youmans, who wrote as well as directed the 2019 film. That he was a teenager at the time renders his work all the more stunning; it has the kind of richness and wisdom some filmmakers spend a lifetime accumulating. (Indie drama lovers may also enjoy “Everything Must Go” and “Residue.”)

Watch on Netflix

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.