Best films on Netflix: Sure-fire hits and movies you might have missed

Christopher Hooton
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Best films on Netflix: Sure-fire hits and movies you might have missed

Netflix’s recommendation algorithm is pretty sophisticated these days, to the point where it can probably determine not only what you want to watch next, but what you’ll eat for breakfast 13 years on Wednesday and the thread count of your sheets.

And yet, it still has a tendency to spit out some bizarre recommendations. Suggesting you follow The Boss Baby: Back in Business with Full Metal Jacket, for example, is presumably the result of a four-year-old relative having briefly taken charge of your account.

Sometimes you just can’t beat a good old-fashioned human recommendation. So here’s a list of exclusively great films – from renowned and revered award winners to lesser-known gems – available on the service (we’ll update the list each month).

View this list as a gallery below:

Sure-fire hits that won’t fail to entertain

The Wolf of Wall Street

(2013. Dir. Martin Scorsese; stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Margot Robbie, Jonah Hill, Matthew McConaughey)

It’s strange that this title doesn’t often rank high in “best Scorsese movies” lists as it is so accomplished at every level of production. Compelling, shocking and very, very funny, it tells the story of Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio), a ruthless stockbroker whose fraudulence and market manipulation afforded him an incredibly opulent and debauched lifestyle – until the feds closed in. Cast to perfection, this is the film that cemented Jonah Hill as more than just a stoner-comedy actor. So desperate was he to achieve his dream of appearing in a Scorsese film, that he offered to perform his key role in Wall Street for free.

Crazy Stupid Love

(2011. Dir. Glenna Ficarra and John Requa; stars Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone)

Don't be fooled by the title – this throwaway romcom isn't remotely sappy. Revolving round a divorcee (Carell) being re-educated on single life by a suave younger man (Gosling), Crazy, Stupid, Love starts out a light watch packed with a lot of laughs. It’s working away on your soul, though. By the end, this surprisingly profound comic drama will have you in tears.

Seven

(1995. Dir. David Fincher; stars Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kevin Spacey)

Criminally overlooked at the Oscars (it only received one nomination – Best Film Editing) Se7en became the blueprint for the neo-noir crime thriller. Two detectives (Pitt and Freeman) stalk a serial killer whose murders are inspired by the seven deadly sins. It moves through them with great pace and suspense, before concluding with an unforgettably macabre twist.

Scarface

(1983. Dir. Brian De Palma; stars Al Pacino, Michelle Pfeiffer)

Come for the mob story, stay for the 1980s nostalgia. De Palma brought style and emotion to this fairly simple tale of a Cuban refugee turned drug kingpin, a rambunctious mix of artful relationship drama and gory, pulp action movie. It’s always a pleasure to soak up the pastel neon of 1980s Miami, the iconic new wave soundtrack, and the fearsome, immersive lead performance from Al Pacino. That I nearly wrote “stars Tony Montana” above says it all about his talents.

Girl, Interrupted

(1999. Dir. James Mangold; stars Winona Ryder, Angelina Jolie, Brittany Murphy, Elisabeth Moss)

1999 was a vintage year for cinema and this drama was ahead of its time, both in its brutally honest exploration of mental health and its utilisation of an overwhelmingly female cast. Kaysen (Ryder) is on the surface of it one of the less severe cases at Claymoore psychiatric hospital. But, as she is led astray by the other rebellious patients (Jolie et al), her manipulative personality has an insidious effect on them all.

Whiplash

(2014. Dir. Damien Chazelle; stars Miles Teller, JK Simmons)

This is one of the very best movies about music, and it only had a budget of $3 million. You don’t have to be particularly into jazz nor drumming to appreciate this meditation on creative discipline. It's a fireworks display of a film which overloads the senses and will have you so close to the edge of your seat as to risk back injury.

The Social Network

(2010. Dir. David Fincher; stars Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Rooney Mara, Justin Timberlake)

As with The Big Short, this biopic was hard to get excited about when it was first announced, the story of Facebook’s rise from dorm-room prank to world-changing social network not appearing that dramatic on the surface of it. Thanks to a razor-sharp script from Aaron Sorkin it is an absolute pleasure to spend 120 minutes with however, Eisenberg playing Facebook founder and neurotic genius Mark Zuckerberg, and Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor providing a driving score. In light of recent events surrounding Facebook, I only wish we were going to get a Social Network 2.

La La Land

(2016. Dir. Damien Chazelle; stars Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone)

If you take my Whiplash recommendation above and have a good time with Chazelle’s breakthrough feature, you’ll be pleased to hear his follow-up is also on Netflix. La La Land isn’t quite as easy to love but is stunningly executed, a love letter to classic Hollywood unfolding through the lives of a struggling musician and actor (Gosling and Stone).

Rain Man

(1988. Dir. Barry Levinson; stars Dustin Hoffman, Tom Cruise)

This comedy road movie swept the board at the 1988 Oscars, winning Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Actor in a Leading Role for Dustin Hoffman.

His chemistry with Cruise is fabulous to watch. Cruise's hustler character finds his inheritance has been given to an autistic savant brother (Hoffman) he knew nothing about. He initially tries to exploit Raymond's gift for numbers, but ends up warming to him and the pair establish an unusual and touching sibling relationship.

Rain Man also features on our list of movie mistakes that only made their scenes better.

Atonement

(2007. Dir. Joe Wright; stars Keira Knightley, James McAvoy, Saoirse Ronan, Benedict Cumberbatch)

This beautifully acted adaptation of the Ian McEwan novel centres on precocious 13-year-old writer Briony Tallis (Ronan) and the lives she irreversibly changes when she accuses her older sister’s lover of a crime he didn’t commit. The cinematography is breathtaking; you’ll want to hang stills from the film on your wall.

Children of Men

(2006. Dir. Alfonso Cuarón; stars Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, Chiwetel Ejiofor)

The year is 2027, and two decades of human infertility have left society in ruins. This is no mild dystopia – there's only one functioning government left in the world.

Clive Owen plays a civil servant who (mild to medium spoiler alert) discovers a refugee is pregnant and must get her to safety amid chaos and rioting.

Engrossing from start to finish, the thriller is notable for its daring single-shot sequences, which saw long strings of action captured in one take thanks to some nifty camerawork.

Good Will Hunting

(1997. Dir. Gus Van Sant; stars Robin Williams, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Minnie Driver)

Damon and Affleck penned one of the all-time great scripts here, telling the story of a kid from the wrong side of the tracks in Boston (Damon) who happens to also be a self-taught maths genius. Robin Williams gives an unforgettably tender performance as his therapist, the film probing deep philosophical questions and examine the worth of knowledge.

Fantastic Mr Fox

(2009. Dir. Wes Anderson; stars George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray)

Almost a decade before Isle of Dogs came Anderson’s first foray into stop-motion animation, an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s 1970 children’s novel, Fantastic Mr Fox. As quirky and detail-orientated as you would expect from the auteur, this is a film made with a lot of love that will please viewers of all generations.

Gems you might have missed

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

(2016. Dir. Aktiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone; stars Andy Bamberg, Schaffer, Taccone, Joan Cusack, Maya Rudolph)

The Lonely Island gang give the modern pop industry a much-needed ribbing in this mockumentary, which centres on a Justin Bieber-esque popstar known as Connor4Real (Samberg) as he ditches his boybandmates and embarks on a solo career. Hugely funny, it skewers everything from stadium show gimmicks to celebrities’ use of social media. Keep your eyes people for an amazing TMZ parody.

20th Century Women

(2016. Dir. Mike Mills; stars Annette Benning, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig)

Given the male egos on the geopolitical stage at the minute, there’s something quite timely about this story of a boy being raised by women amid a spirit of freedom prevalent in Santa Barbara in 1979. Annette Benning shows why she is one of Hollywood’s greats, in an increasingly rare lead role.

Nightcrawler

(2014. Dir. Dan Gilroy; stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Riz Ahmed)

Realising that his sensitive demeanour is actually weirdly creepy was the best thing Gyllenhaal did for his career. With Nightcrawler, he quit playing heroic soldiers and explorers and took on a sinister video journalist obsessed with covering the most grim and violent crime scenes he could scramble to. This is an underrated thriller with a lot to say about American news consumption.

Loving Vincent

(2017. Dir. Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman; stars Saoirse Ronan, Helen McCrory, Aidan Turner)

Each of this film’s 65,000 frames is an oil painting on canvas, created painstakingly by a team of artists employing the same techniques as Vincent van Gogh. If that fact alone doesn’t get you to at least stick this film on and give it a chance to draw you in, I don’t know what will.

Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond

(2017. Dir. Miloš Forman; stars Jim Carrey)

A film about Jim Carrey’s portrayal of Andy Kauffman in the 1999 film Man on the Moon might sound niche, but this documentary transcends its behind-the-scenes premise. Carrey stayed in character for the entirety of production on the biopic, infuriating and inspiring his co-stars. Here we find out why he went uber method, and get to spend some time in Carrey’s mind, which is not always a very happy place to be. A surprisingly moving watch.

The Invitation

(2015. Dir Karyn Kusama; stars Logan Marshall-Green, Tammy Blanchard)

There’s no witchcraft or unexplained supernatural goings-on in this horror, which takes place entirely at an incredibly awkward dinner party. The hosts will just not. Stop. Being. Creepy. Protagonist Will seems to be the only guest convinced something is not quite right, but is it all in his head?

Nymphomaniac volumes I & II

(2013. Dir. Lars von Trier; stars Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgård, Shia LaBeouf, Christian Slater, Jamie Bell, Uma Thurman, Willem Dafoe)

The third part of Lars von Trier’s so-called “Depression Trilogy” (following Antichrist and Melancholia), Nymphomaniac is probably the experimental director’s most accessible film. Separated into two parts, it chronicles a young woman’s (Stacy Martin and later Gainsbourg) sexual history, and the often dangerous impact it has on her life.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

(2011. Dir. David Gelb; stars Jiro Ono)

Certainly the best doc ever made about sushi and possibly the best doc ever made about food, Jiro Dreams of Sushi centres on 85-year-old Jiro Ono, the owner of a Michelin three-star restaurant located in a Tokyo subway station. Jiro is one of the highest-regarded chefs in the world, but is any level of acclaim good enough for this perfectionist?

Layer Cake

(2004. Dir. Matthew Vaughn; stars Daniel Craig, Tom Hardy, Ben Whishaw, Sally Hawkins)

Ever wondered how Daniel Craig ended up playing James Bond? Look no further than this gritty mob drama, in which he plays a suave (check!), suited (check!) and solemn (check!) cocaine supplier, drawn deeper than he would like into London’s criminal underbelly.

God’s Own Country

(2017. Dir. Francis Lee; stars Josh O’Connor, Alec Secăreanu)

“Same-sex lovers struggle to just be themselves in a small town where being gay is frowned upon” may be a story we’ve seen many, many times on the big screen now, but this British drama just does it so beautifully, and with a budget of only £1 million. Johnny (O’Connor) is a bored and bitter young farmer in Yorkshire, but his life is turned upside down when Romanian migrant worker Gheorge (Secăreanu) arrives and soothes his weary soul.

Good Time

(2017. Dir. the Safdie brothers; stars Robert Pattinson, Jennifer Jason Leigh)

A scintillating little film, Good Time is one night in the life of Constantine (Pattinson) and his mentally-handicapped brother Nick (Ben Safdie) as they bungle a bank robbery and are hounded by the police. Harnessing the same piss and vinegar spirit as a Heat or a Carlito’s Way, this will make you nostalgic for the action movie golden age of the 1990s.

Gaga: Five Foot Two

(2017. Dir. Chris Moukarbel; stars Lady Gaga)

Lady Gaga is a fascinating figure in that she exists in a space within the pop industry entirely of her own. We get a glimpse of her world in this documentary, which encounters her struggle with chronic pain caused by fibromyalgia, her Super Bowl LI halftime show, her guest role in American Horror Story and her feud with Madonna.