Behold, Steve Newall has crafted the definitive list of the best films currently available to stream on Netflix NZ. We’ll update this post each month as films come and go from Netflix.
UPDATED SEPTEMBER 22
Getting started with some of the heaviest, never not timely, viewing on Netflix, director Ava DuVernay (Selma) explores the injustice of the US prison system and what it reveals about racial inequality in America. Nominated for a Best Documentary Oscar and winning a BAFTA and Emmy, DuVernay’s film takes its title from the 13th Amendment—abolishing slavery in 1865, except in the case of criminal convictions. The resulting prison-industrial complex is terrifying to behold, a country with 5% of the world’s population has 25% of its prisoners, disproportionately black in a continuation of centuries of racist legislation.
* Everything coming to Netflix next month
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You know the drill—one part whirlwind fairytale romance, one part wish-fulfilment fantasy, a potent brew that’s sustained multiple tellings of this story to date. What makes this one work is the excellent chemistry of its leads, and the convincingly depicted musical world depicted here (you’d be hard-pressed to find another mainstream drama with such convincing live performances). Lady Gaga’s a revelation, Cooper a convincing music biz wreck, and even as this heads to an inevitable-feeling content-advisory-requiring ending, it’s hard to imagine not being invested in their tale.
An unholy trinity comes together to produce filmmaking magnificence—Bret Easton Ellis’s notorious novel, a Christian Bale performance for the ages, and director/co-screenwriter Mary Harron’s take on the source material. The pairing of Harron and Bale is vital to the sublime result, as opposed to the satire-free thriller that Lionsgate tried to make at one point, intended to star Leonardo DiCaprio with Oliver Stone directing. Yikes. While Harron’s film has no shortage of controversial content, her take demonstrates an understanding of Ellis’s novel as comedic social critique, and is an enduringly watchable one.
Alex Garland made a big splash with feature debut Ex Machina after writing in the sci-fi genre with Sunshine and Dredd. The former novelist tackles one hell of a tricky adaptation here in the form of the first installment in Jeff VanderMeer’s trippy Southern Reach trilogy, his writing bordering at times on the unfilmable. With a powerful cast of women led by Natalie Portman and an affecting, disorienting Geoff Barrow/Ben Salisbury score, Garland takes us on a psychedelic journey into body horror, transformation, depression and grief, with gorgeous visuals fleshing out Annihilation‘s tendencies towards Lovecraft and Ballard.
Set in Senegal’s capital Dakar, supernatural romantic drama Atlantics follows interweaving narratives—construction workers rail against not being paid to build a shining corporate tower above the impoverished city, and teenaged Ada prepares for her arranged marriage. Connecting the two is Ada’s romance with Souleiman, one of the aforementioned workers, who’s among a group of them to set sail in the middle of the night for Spain. Things get odd when illness begins to befall those close to these men, and Souleiman’s said to have made a reappearance. A deft blend of various elements, and a super promising first feature from Mati Diop (also the first black woman to direct a film in competition at Cannes).
Robert Zemeckis’s enduring classic sees a teenager struggle with travelling back in time (as well as struggling with the Oedipal complex) after being transported to a confusing era, 30 years in the past—a time gap that suggests if this were made now, Marty McFly’s destination would be the ancient epoch of 1990 rather than 1955. It’s hard to pick favourites between this and its superb first sequel (also on Netflix), involving a time leap forward to the distant future of 2015, and relishing its detailed depictions of a timeline in which Biff Tannen channels the grossness of Trump. Still, there’s a joy to the original that’s hard to top.
Tim Burton introduced himself with an incredible run of films, and his second feature Beetlejuice is as creatively jam-packed as the best of ’em (is it the best of ’em? Don’t @ me). Full of brilliant visual, conceptual, and storytelling ideas—including a terrifyingly bureaucratic afterlife—Burton’s casting is spot-on, with great performances led by Michael Keaton in hyperactive lounge lizard creepo mode and, well, everyone else (Ryder, Davis, Baldwin, O’Hara—chef’s kiss). This top-drawer horror-comedy coulda turned out much differently if Sammy Davis Jr. was the title character, as Burton reportedly envisioned.
While best-known as an outright comedy director thanks to Anchorman, Talladega Nights and Step Brothers, here Adam McKay turns in a brutally succinct takedown of the American greed causing the Global Financial Crisis. McKay distills hugely complex subject matter down to digestible, Oscar-winning form, using every trick in the book—a stacked cast, dramatic heft, the blackest of comedy, Margot Robbie in a bubble bath—to land this true story’s punches, bringing into full view a mix of satirical skills, anti-establishment attitude, and interest in serious issues previously only hinted at on Saturday Night Live (and his underrated cop comedy The Other Guys, of all places—also on Netflix).
Spike Lee connects the dots between 70s racism and the MAGA era with perhaps the most accessible film of his career, one that finally earned him a much-deserved Oscar. Building off the foundations of the kind of audacious true story filmmakers must dream of—the first black cop to join the Colorado Springs police department goes undercover (over the phone) with KKK Grand Wizard David Duke, assisted in person by his white partner—Lee captures much more than just the highly entertaining and captivating central tale, exposing the banal realities of American racism, assisted by standout performances from John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, and Topher Grace’s great turn as Duke.
Ridley Scott’s groundbreaking sci-fi pic went through a few edits/meddles over the years, with six versions seen by audiences before settling into its final form with 2007’s The Final Cut. A dystopian 2019 provides a grimy backdrop to this noir-indebted tale of replicants and their hunters—with a femme fatale thrown in for good measure. Harrison Ford’s combo of good looks, bad mood and grizzled mumbles make for a classically cut gun-for-hire/gumshoe, one of several increasingly tragic figures caught up in Scott’s tale.
At the time of its release a darker turn than people expected from star Jim Carrey, The Cable Guy is a wonderfully watchable marriage of his up-to-11 comedy style and the sub-category of psychological thrillers defined by unhealthy relationships—satirising films like Cape Fear. Matthew Broderick’s hapless schmuck opposite Carrey is another spot of perfect casting, the pair mismatched at opposite ends of the spectrum, with one utterly unthreatening and the other outrageously unhinged. The Medieval Times sequence is just one of the great moments in this excellent black comedy.
Supremely watchable entertainment, this tale of a young con man (Leonardo DiCaprio) who posed as a pilot, doctor and more while pursued by a dogged FBI agent (Tom Hanks) sees Steven Spielberg at perhaps his lightest and breeziest—while it might not trouble some of his other efforts at the top of “best of” rankings, Catch Me If You Can is among some of Spielberg’s most purely entertaining work. None of it would function as well without DiCaprio at its centre, trading on his looks and charm onscreen in a way that felt extremely plausible in the wake of Titanic mania.
The debut of directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller was a sign of the strain of comedy they’d have in store for audiences in their live-action Jump Street films and the animated excellence of The Lego Movie. There may be other, more critically-praised, animated films on Netflix (yes, like The Iron Giant), but do they have a machine that can turn water into food, gains sentience and rains food items on a vulnerable small town like a buffet turned disaster movie? No sir, they do not.
Tarantino’s Spaghetti Western takes the same pleasure in meting out violent justice upon evil archetypes of history as its predecessor, revisionist WW2 pic Inglorious Basterds. Django Unchained is perhaps the funner of the two—when it’s operating as an odd couple action pic rather than depicting American slavery—with Jamie Foxx a crowd-pleasing charisma machine and Christoph Waltz in Oscar-winning form. Watching them team up against plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) sets the film on a trajectory towards a bloody, fiery, conclusion where, as he did in films before and since, Tarantino turns the cinema into a place of palpable, if fictional, retribution.
“Eddie’s back!” was the exclamation heard last year as Eddie Murphy showed he’d lost none of his charm. Murphy stepped into the shoes and extended waistline of comedian Rudy Ray Moore, creator of the character Dolemite—a cane-wielding pimp who recited raunchy comedy routines, and sold a ton of profanity-laden records before setting out to make a 70s blaxploitation film. A celebration of one man’s creative tenacity, and his ability to pull a filmmaking family together (experience or no experience), Dolemite Is My Name is a wonderful against-the-odds tale, with the added bonus of Wesley Snipes flamboyantly chewing the scenery in a waaay over-the-top performance.
A box office dud that deservedly found its audience on home video, Paul W.S. Anderson’s space-set horror moves beyond the extraterrestrial and embraces occult evilness to delightfully gruesome effect. A rescue/reconnaissance mission to a mysteriously reappeared experimental spaceship soon becomes deadly to the crew who board the Event Horizon (led by Laurence Fishburne, and including the likes of Jason Isaacs, Joely Richardson and Sean Pertwee). Along for the ride is Sam Neill, playing the designer of the ship, who over the course of the film gets to let loose in one of his most enjoyably loopy performances.
Netflix currently has the first seven installments in this franchise available for viewing, but despite escalating levels of physics-defying action as each film tries to better the last, Fast Five stands as the high water mark of the series to date. Declared by Flicks writers to be the eighth best action film of last decade, there was no bettering the surprise factor of Fast Five’s audacity in abandoning much, if any connection to street racing, while the welcome introduction of Dwayne Johnson to the franchise further enhanced the adrenaline factor. Everything clicked here, even as the film leans into its ridiculousness for maximum enjoyment.
Ethan Hawke’s maybe never been better as the troubled priest at the centre of Paul Schrader’s impressive drama. A former military chaplain grieving over the death of his son, Ernst Toller is the pastor of a shrinking congregation, one of whom (Amanda Seyfried) approaches him to help counsel her radical environmentalist husband. The experience pushes Toller further into crises of his own—contemplating the destructive impact of humans on God’s creation and reconsidering his church’s alignment with an evangelical corporate counterpart. If it sounds heavy, yeah, it is, but its also kinda transcendent. The seventh-best film of last decade, we reckoned.
On the run, and trying to clear his name by finding the one-armed man who killed his wife, Harrison Ford’s great as Dr. Richard Kimble aka the fugitive of the title. He has an equally strong foil in Tommy Lee Jones, who scored an Oscar as the U.S. Marshal on Kimble’s tail. Ford’s combination of everyman hero to identify with and movie star bristling with intensity are the perfect qualities to bring Kimble to life, in this energetic pic that’s one of the best action-thrillers of the 90s and one of the very best you’ll find on Netflix.
David Ayers’ underrated WWII tank drama Fury may have its share of stereotypical war movie elements, but boy, when the tank-on-tank battles kick off, they are coherently staged, spectacular and nerve-wracking enough to earn this film its spot here. Then there’s the solid cast—Shia LaBeouf, Michael Peña, Logan Lerman, Jon Bernthal and their commander Brad Pitt—who form a ragtag family as the crew of Sherman tank Fury, advancing through the muddy countryside of Germany in the closing months of the war. That Allied victory is almost inevitable doesn’t lessen the stakes in this tightly-focused tale—these guys still have to survive, and you’ll be in for a tense ride.
What can we say about Francis Ford Coppola’s mafia masterpiece that you don’t already know? Nearly fifty years old and almost three hours long, Coppola’s film about the Corleone family still looms large over the genre. By now the references and parodies of The Godfather have themselves been referenced and parodied so many times they’re barely connected to the original—not that this dilutes the impact of watching this 1972 classic one iota.
What a combination of A-games Gone Girl is. There’s Gillian Flynn’s novel, which she adapts for the screen here; David Fincher’s grasp of tone from stylish pic to trashy goodness; and the performances of Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike as the ill-matched Dunnes. Affleck in particular is a piece of pitch-perfect casting, drawing on his slimier, less sympathetic qualities as the kind of guy who it’s easy to believe would have actually killed his wife. As her disappearance is investigated, what unfolds is a thrilling sequence of events that doesn’t feel like it runs for anything like its two and half hour viewing time.
Robbed at the Academy Awards (where it bizarrely found itself up against The Godfather, Part III in a number of categories), GoodFellas was beaten for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Editing and Best Adapted Screenplay by Dances With Wolves, which we can probably agree is completely, objectively wrong (though at least there was Oscar love for Joe Pesci). Audaciously, energetically directed and harnessing great performances from Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro and Pesci, GoodFellas turns gangster life into an exhilarating thrill, the counter-point to which Scorsese explores in fellow Netflix title The Irishman.
Two years after he last saw his ex-wife Eden, following the death of their son and the grief-stricken end of their marriage, Will (Logan Marshall-Green) and his girlfriend accept a dinner party invitation from Eden and her new husband David. Karyn Kusama’s film may open with awkwardness, but soon finds the viewer spiralling down with Will as he revisits their old home and painful memories collide with unresolved grief and paranoia. As damaged Will finds out why Eden is so able to cope with it all, unlike himself, the slow-burning film strikes out for more edge-of-the-seat territory and one hell of a finish.
Jim Henson’s fantasy adventure classic was formative viewing for a generation, growing in stature since its (financially unsuccessful) release. Little wonder, as there’s abundant delight to be taken in the magnificent creations of the Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, who populate the vast majority of the film. Of course there’s David Bowie’s Goblin King to marvel at as well (and his outfit and his, er, balls), while Jennifer Connelly is superbly cast as the adventuring teen trying to rescue her baby half-brother, in this coming-of-age adventure that is enjoyably darker and scarier than typical Henson fare.
The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King are all streaming on Netflix, so you can revisit hours of compelling storytelling and see eye-popping reasons to get off your couch and do some travelling around Aotearoa. Seriously—get out there, blow your mind and help our economy, all at a time when the roads are free of campervans driven by obsessive Lord of the Rings fans. Disclaimer: none of this should get in the way of regular visits to Flicks and your fave cinemas, obviously.
If you’ve enjoyed The Great, you should definitely take this for a spin. Sofia Coppola’s non-stuffy approach to period storytelling ruffled feathers at the time of Marie Antoinette’s release, but proves essential in this addition to her vital explorations of female isolation. Blessed with an incredible Antoinette in Kirsten Dunst, Coppola is determined for us to understand the emotion and experience of a teenager thrust into the centre of an absurd court to play the role of princess. If the vibrant energy pisses you off and you’d prefer a dry history lesson, well, there are plenty of textbooks.
Merata Mita, the landmark Māori filmmaker who made status quo-challenging docos on Bastion Point (Bastion Point – Day 507) and the Springbok Tour (Patu!), is honoured in this personal portrait from her film archivist son Heperi. The world’s first indigenous woman to direct a feature film (Mauri), Merata was also an outspoken activist—and for many years a solo mum bringing up her kids. In what doubles as vital Aotearoa film history and a deeply personal tale of family, Heperi engages with Merata’s life on both sides of the camera, revisiting her films and whānau to look back on Merata’s life and her impact on those around her. Essential viewing.
Now six films in, this series just keeps getting better and better, with Tom Cruise and director/screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie seemingly stuck in some kind of cinematic arms race to push each other to crazier levels of set pieces, stunt work and blockbuster perfection. Fallout saw Henry Cavill, Angela Bassett and Vanessa Kirby join the cast, and brilliantly staged action sequences that included a thrilling chase through Paris, Cruise jumping out of a plane at 25,000 feet, flying a helicopter in New Zealand (doubling for Kashmir) and that old action movie classic—a choice fight on the side of a mountain.
Capturing three chapters of a young black man’s life, this Best Picture winner at the 2017 Oscars is a remarkable portrayal of youth, adolescence and early adulthood. Three different actors play lead character Chiron at these different ages as he deals with emotional and physical abuse and their lasting impacts, as well as navigating his identity as a gay black man. A great cast, including Trevante Rhodes, André Holland, Janelle Monáe and Mahershala Ali nail things on the acting front, while Barry Jenkins’s remarkably assured direction makes this heartfelt tale sing from the screen, incredibly moving and deeply personal.
David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive is one of the best psychological thrillers on Netflix, though what actually happens in this surreal, Hollywood-set neo-noir is deliciously open to interpretation. Not that the film necessarily needs a definitive explanation—it’s perfectly enjoyable washing over you and feeding into the subconscious. Naomi Watts shines as irrepressibly aspiring actress Betty, who helps out a woman with amnesia (Laura Harring), following clues that lead to very Lynchian places both literally and thematically, or so we think. Brilliant, engrossing, and at turns chilling and amusing.
Earlier this year, Netflix delighted Studio Ghibli fans with the news that they’d acquired 21 classic films from Oscar-winning Japanese animation team Studio Ghibli (“feel free to cry big, globby tears of joy when you read this”, we said). But how to pick a fave, when the work of these animation masters is brimming with perfection? Even though we have ample love for Howl’s Moving Castle, Spirited Away, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, Princess Mononoke, Laputa: Castle in the Sky and others you can see on Netflix, let’s appoint My Neighbour Totoro as Ghibli’s ambassador on this list (he’s their mascot, after all).
Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe team up to winning effect in Shane Black’s black comedy crime pic The Nice Guys, a great odd-couple comprising a comically hapless PI (Gosling) and a rough-as-guts enforcer (Crowe). Careening around 1970s Los Angeles, the duo are trying to track down a missing young woman whose trail will lead them into the pornography industry, as well as conflict with the city’s bureaucracy (and of course some hoodlums and assorted cannon fodder). Black was back at his best here, and the chemistry between Gosling and Crowe nothing short of magnificent.
Surely the most over-the-top action you’ll find on Netflix, this Indonesian pic shares thrilling choreography and key cast members with The Raid, but gleefully embraces the gory end of action. Director Timo Tjahjanto serves up a massive body count, and relishes coming up with as many different ways for a human to kill another human as he can, broken cattle bones in a freezing works being among our favourites (along with plenty of other shooting, breaking, and chopping manoeuvres). There’s probably a story in there somewhere but it escapes us just now—doesn’t stop this from being incredibly entertaining.
If you have even one shred of a functioning heart, be prepared to be won over by this extraordinarily adorable talking bear in two extraordinarily British films. Both Paddington and Paddington 2 (also on Netflix) are “full-blown charm assaults“, with adventuring and amusement never lagging across the two films. In each, Paddington proves a loveable comic disruption to his adoptive family (Sally Hawkins and Hugh Bonneville, Madeleine Harris and Samuel Joslin), and finds himself going up against enjoyably OTT villains (Nicole Kidman in the first pic, and Hugh Grant the second). The results? So adorable you just want to squeeze something to bits.
The year 2020—what a time to see so many Nazis get shot, punched, splattered and melted. As if there ever was a bad time… It’s also never the wrong time to revisit Harrison Ford’s first outing as whip-cracking, globe-trotting, snake-hating archeologist Indiana Jones. Set in 1936, Indy’s racing the Nazis to get to the Ark of the Covenant, and even if he arguably does very little to impact the events of the film (wouldn’t the same thing have happened at the end even if he wasn’t there to witness it?) his adventuring is filled with thrilling, iconic moments thanks to Steven Spielberg, Lawrence Kasdan and George Lucas.
An incredibly moving portrayal of the bond between mother and son, Room also functions as an unsettling captivity thriller. Trapped in a windowless, 10-by-10-foot enclosure, Brie Larson plays a mother raising and protecting her five-year-old son Jack—even as a sicko keeps them trapped there. Her efforts to preserve Jack’s optimism and innocence in this awful situation are deeply affecting, with Larson winning an Academy Award for her superb work in building an onscreen maternal relationship with the then seven-year-old Jacob Tremblay (himself kept innocent of the film’s true nature by the production).
For whatever reason, Brian De Palma films continue to be on short supply on Netflix, but if you were to just have the one, as is currently the case, it may as well be this 1983 gangster remake built around a classic Pacino performance. This Oliver Stone-penned and Giorgio Moroder-soundtracked coke-fuelled tale of the rise and [spoiler] of a Cuban refugee in Miami has left an indelible mark on pop culture, thanks to oft-quoted lines of dialogue, a huge influence on the hip hop world, and serving as the key inspiration for Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. The film also launched the career of the then-unknown Michelle Pfeiffer—so thanks, Scarface!
This stunningly beautiful wuxia pic is a feast for the eyes, largely black and grey (with delicate dabs of colour) to highlight its gorgeous compositions and martial arts sequences. In an example of Shakespeare-worthy court intrigue, a double (shadow) poses as the military commander of an ancient Chinese kingdom ruled by a young and unpredictable king. With the real, unwell, commander orchestrating events from behind the scenes, war is begun with rival kingdoms, a conflict the king has been unwilling to start, and is now powerless to stop—luckily for us, with the action scenes that will entail.
Kubrick’s horror masterpiece needs no introduction. Like some of other films on this list, it has permeated pop culture thanks to unforgettable imagery, a combination of creeping dread and outright terror, and magnificent performances led by a foaming mad Jack Nicholson. Stephen King might not be the biggest fan, but in the hands of Kubrick, King’s novel—inspired the author’s alcoholism and his stay at The Stanley Hotel—transcends the B-movie ghetto usually assigned to horror, becoming something more profoundly affecting in the process.
A documentary tracing the making of a pioneering independent film shot in Singapore in 1992, Shirkers is a fascinating blend of autobiography, cinema history and mystery. A trio of young women with a shared love of indie film, zine culture and alternative music set out to make an indie film, with the assistance of an older American ex-pat mentor. Production commenced, film was shot—and then the footage disappeared. In Shirkers, the film’s screenwriter and lead actor Sandi Tan tells the story of how their film came to be, and tries to find out what happened to it.
The insanity and violent reality of the modern war on drugs are depicted in jaw-dropping fashion throughout Denis Villeneuve’s nerve-wracking action thriller, following US drug enforcement’s fight against drug cartels on both sides of the Mexican border. Tense as hell, with great set-pieces, the film’s anchored by Emily Blunt, essential in counterbalancing the film’s macho energy (not to say anything bad about the jaded Josh Brolin and chilling Benicio Del Toro here). Unfortunately the importance of Blunt was demonstrated for all the wrong reasons when she was absent from the vastly inferior, overly-cynical sequel.
It may have all the trappings of a medical drama, but Steven Soderbergh’s Side Effects is actually an enjoyably absurd twist-laden thriller led by impressive star power (Rooney Mara, Channing Tatum, Jude Law, Catherine Zeta-Jones). Yes, it may start with Mara’s character experiencing strange sleepwalking episodes thought to be caused by a new prescription drug, but holy shit, it does not end there. From screenwriter Scott Z. Burns (frequent Soderbergh collaborator who wrote pandemic streaming fave Contagion), to the cast and director, everyone seems to be having a blast in pushing the boat out.
This darkly comic directorial debut of Boots Riley is an astonishing, surreal, shit-stirring satire of capitalism and much more besides. A scream of release, letting loose a pent-up torrent of frustrations about contemporary life, the film follows Cassius “Cash” Green (Lakeith Stanfield) as he finds himself a job as a telemarketer and success by using his “white voice”. Before long, he’s being sucked into some kind of Pynchonian nightmare as the film comedically critiques racism, classism, late-stage capitalism, assimilation, conformity, art and commerce, romance, consumerism, and activism. What a trip.
This comedy highlight soars thanks to its inspired pairing of Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly as squabbling man-babies forced to get along when their respective parents get together. It’s utterly ridiculous with completely committed performances and comes as significantly lighter viewing than some of the other entries on this list. Ferrell and Reilly are a joy to behold, while Adam Scott is great as an asshole (and shines leading an a cappella rendition of Sweet Child O’ Mine recently remade by boxer Joseph Parker). Also on Netflix and worth a watch, director Adam McKay’s more cerebral efforts The Big Short and Vice, as well as the underrated buddy-cop comedy The Other Guys, starring Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg.
Skewering Bruckheimer-esque action movies with a cast of marionettes, Trey Parker and Matt Stone apparently didn’t realise the limitations of puppets would prompt such hilarity until the first scene was being shot. With scripted gags falling flat, the laughs were coming from how hopeless the puppets really were at moving and emoting, despite the painstaking work of building sets, props and costumes. This sheer shitty ridiculousness doesn’t diminish on rewatches of this unsubtle genre-mocker, in fact, the closer the parodic elements get to South Park the less effective they are, especially years later. The audacity and absurdity though? Still a massive crack-up.
The story of identical triplets reunited at age 19 and the dark secret behind their initial separation, to say too much about what transpires in this must-see documentary would diminish its impact. Suffice to say, this tale of identical triplets reunited after being adopted out to three different families—their connection to one another unbeknownst to parents and kids alike—packs more punches than simply the novelty factor that made momentary celebrities out of the three young men in question. Their post-reunion life is fascinating, as is the investigative work into how the whole situation came about, dark revelations that you’ll be desperate to discuss with fellow viewers.
A rare strong modern entry in the zombie genre, Train to Busan follows a group of terrified Korean passengers fighting their way through a countrywide viral outbreak while trapped on a suspicion-filled, blood-drenched bullet train ride to apparent safety. The onboard setting (punctuated with the occasional stop and encounter with fast-moving zombie hordes) works wonders, providing the sort of confinement and close proximity that fuels paranoia and distrust in the best zombie films. A high-energy blast—shame about this year’s disappointing live-action sequel.
Adam Sandler is in top form in this anxiety-inducing drama, frantic and self-destructive as he does a high-wire act under the weight of the multiple gambles of his life (literal gambling, high-risk gem deals, debts to unsavoury characters, juggling mistress and family relationships). Filmmakers the Safdie brothers populate their film with a great cast as we follow Sandler’s character through increasingly high stakes, with Uncut Gems also managing to be funny and tender around the pulse-pounding. Maybe the most intense movie you’ll find on Netflix, and yes, THERE IS QUITE A LOT OF SHOUTING.
What do you do when a suddenly transforming sun is confirmed to expand to the point that it will engulf the Earth in 300 years and render us extinct with rising temperatures long before that? This Chinese blockbuster’s solution lies in the title—fly the bloody planet out of the solar system and to safety (a bit more ambitious than Armageddon, no?). Based on the novella by Chinese sci-fi great Cixin Liu (The Three-Body Problem), the film brings hard sci-fi and a fresh perspective to bear on its Emmerich-like solar threat, intriguing in its depiction of humanity taking up the incomprehensible challenge, as well as what happens when things inevitably don’t entirely go to plan.