The 100 Best Movies Streaming on Netflix (August 2015)

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silver-linings.jpg 75. Silver Linings Playbook
Year: 2012
Director: David O. Russell
With leads as winning as Cooper and Lawrence, and Russell’s signature mix of clever and sincere dialogue, the hook is set. Every single detail doesn’t gel—Chris Tucker’s role as Danny, Pat Jr’s escape-prone friend from the treatment facility, seems a bit extraneous—but it doesn’t need to. By the end of the dance competition finale (yeah, there’s that), the audience, actors and director are on exactly the same page—and it’s Russell’s playbook.—Michael Burgin

sling-blade.jpg 74. Sling Blade
Year: 1996
Director: Billy Bob Thornton 
I once read that in Greek mythic tragedy, once you understand the setup and the characters, everything that will happen in the drama is already determined. All that remains is for everything to play itself out. From very early on in the film, Sling Blade feels just that way. Everything that happens in the film must happen—could not do other than happen. And yet watching it unfold is a thing of beauty.—Michael Dunaway

two-days-one-night.jpg 73. Two Days, One Night
Year: 2014
Directors: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne
Available August 11
Sandra takes time off from her job for health reasons; in her absence, she’s made redundant, and her coworkers reap a not-insignificant bonus as a result of her firing. The latest work from the brothers Dardenne is a work of compassion, but Two Days, One Night is as much about our sympathy for Sandra (played with heartbreaking brilliance by Marion Cotillard) as it is about posing questions of ethics. As Sandra drives all over town in an effort to convince her coworkers to give up the bonus pay in exchange for her reinstatement, we wonder how we would respond to her pleas. It’s an easy thing to judge the people we meet throughout the film for their reluctance, but in telling of Sandra’s plight, the Dardennes invite us to examine our own convictions.—Andy Crump

diving-bell-butterfly.jpg 72. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Year: 2007
Director: Julian Schnabel
In 1995, French journalist Jean-Dominique Bauby suffered a horrific stroke that left his entire body paralyzed in what doctors call the “locked-in syndrome.” In a remarkable testament to the human spirit, Bauby was able to dictate a 132-page memoir by blinking his left eye. Incredibly, ace-auteur Julian Schnabel adapted that memoir into a breathtaking, lyrical, haunting film that is as much his creation as Bauby’s. (Kudos to the Academy for recognizing Schnabel’s brilliance with a Best Director nomination.) The Diving Bell is not only a testament to the human spirit, but to the power of cinema as well.—Jeremy Medina

a-simple-plan.jpg 71. A Simple Plan
Year: 1998
Director: Sam Raimi 
For his second go at mainstream recognition after the mixed reception of The Quick and the Dead, Sam Raimi stepped back into the stark clarity of his much pulpier early days to tell a straightforward fable about Bad things happening to Good people. His unaffected touch is there in its first frame: a pitch-black raven cawing against a bleached-white background. From there, Raimi wastes no ground in subtlety, shaking up his black-and-white palette with ominous reds, repeatedly allowing his characters to desperately claim that the snow, in all of its snowy whiteness, will cover up past wrongdoing and let the Good people—if they’re sorry enough—start anew. In that sense, A Simple Plan is as traditional a morality play as a thriller can get, but Raimi has never been a director unwilling to splash about in the shallows; instead, the inevitability of the plot is his point—even the simplest of decisions carry whole worlds of consequence—and Raimi injects each emotional beat with unspeakable tragedy. Carried by Billy Bob Thornton’s performance, one of boundless sympathy at a time when the actor seemed capable of anything, A Simple Plan serves as something of a companion piece to Fargo, another expertly crafted thriller from the ‘90s. It treats its wintry landscape similarly: not as a metaphorical whiting out of sins, but as a tabula rasa upon which human nature—in big bright colors—will eventually paint its own selfish doom.—Dom Sinacola

a-most-wanted-man.jpg 70. A Most Wanted Man
Year: 2014
Director: Anton Corbijn
This is Corbijn’s most ambitious project—his debut was the quite fine Ian Curtis biopic Control—and he does an excellent job of provoking steely performances from a large cast. This is some of McAdams’ best work in far too long—tough and compassionate at the same time—and even an old pro like Dafoe seems to be reaching down a little deeper to produce something memorable. A Most Wanted Man may be less flashy in design than Corbijn’s first two films, but in its place is a terrific sense of bitter resignation that seeps through every frame. The spy game hasn’t gotten any more thrilling in the wake of 9/11, only more urgent and tense. And as this movie argues, in such an environment trying to be the good guy may end up meaning precious little at all.—Tim Grierson

glengarry-glenross.jpg 69. Glengarry Glen Ross
Year: 1992
Director: James Foley
Surely somewhere on the Internet there’s a catalog of all the potboiler plays that have been turned into lifeless movies; wherein the minimal settings came off as flat rather than intimate or claustrophobic, and the surgically written prose came off as stilted rather than impassioned. Glengarry Glen Ross is the exception and the justification for all noble stage-to-screen attempts since. This adaptation of David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize winning play about workingman’s inhumanity to workingman still crackles today, and its best lines (and there are many) have become ingrained in the angrier sections of our collective zeitgeist. James Foley directs the playwright’s signature cadence better than the man himself, and the all-star cast give performances they’ve each only hoped to match since. Mamet, for his part, managed to elevate his already stellar material with his screenplay, adding the film’s most iconic scene, the oft-quoted Blake speech brilliantly delivered by Alec Baldwin. This is a film worthy of a cup of coffee and, as we know, coffee is for closers only.—Bennett Webber

bernie.jpg 68. Bernie
Year: 2011
Director: Richard Linklater 
Bernie is as much about the town of Carthage, Texas, as it is about its infamous resident Bernie Tiede (Jack Black), the town’s mortician and prime suspect in the murder of one of its most despised citizens, Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine). Unlike Nugent, Bernie is conspicuously loved by all. When he’s not helping direct the high school musical, he’s teaching Sunday school. Like a well-played mystery, Linklater’s excellent, darkly humorous (and true) story is interspersed with tantalizing interviews of the community’s residents. Linklater uses real East Texas folks to play the parts, a device that serves as the perfect balance against the drama that leads up to Bernie’s fatal encounter with the rich bitch of a widow. The comedy is sharp, with some of the film’s best lines coming from those townsfolk.—Tim Basham

nightmare-christmas.jpg 67. The Nightmare Before Christmas
Year: 1993
Director: Henry Selick
On simply a shot-by-shot basis, The Nightmare Before Christmas ranks as one of the most visually splendid films ever made. Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King of Halloweentown, becomes obsessed with Christmas and decides to hijack the holiday. Often presented under the title Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, the film echoes many of the hit director’s pet themes, with Jack being one of Burton’s many brooding artistic protagonists. The film’s actual director was Henry Selick, who oversees an ingenious design and a cast of endearing monsters. The film doesn’t quite have the narrative fuel and graceful song lyrics to match Disney’s best animated musicals, but every year the film looks better and better.—Curt Holman

dirty-pretty-things.jpg 66. Dirty Pretty Things
Year: 2002
Director: Stephen Frears
Avoiding familiar common postcard views of London, Stephen Frears makes Dirty Pretty Things a tour through shady dealings and sufferings that could be set in any big city on either side of the Atlantic. It’s a contemporary nightmare. We are drawn into the daily desperation of overworked immigrants—legal and otherwise—who survive by doing the world’s dirty work. Frears, who surprises us with something new every time, cleverly dodges the curse of social dilemma films. Weaving threads of classic thrillers through this gritty realistic context, he satisfies our desire for a good story—for intrigue, suspense, humor, big revelations and a tantalizing possibility of romance—even as he educates us about the evils occurring right under our noses. Okwe (Chiwetel Ejiofor, stoic and slow-burning) is a Nigerian immigrant—a doctor in his home country—hiding from immigration police while he works several wearying jobs. His tour of hell begins with a David Lynch-ian discovery—a human heart clogging a hotel toilet. Ugly secrets lie at the heart of the matter—passports, blood, betrayal—and Okwe and his beautiful co-worker (Audrey Tatou) get in over their heads. In Frears’ bleak depiction of a compassionless society, no charitable agency rescues the persecuted. No God hears their prayers; they can turn only to each other for fragments of kindness.—Jeffrey Overstreet

3-women.jpg 65. 3 Women
Year: 1977
Director: Robert Altman
Based, in part, on a fever dream Robert Altman had while his wife lay nearby, incapacitated and hospital-bed-sick, 3 Women comes at the tail-end of the most prolific decade of Altman’s career. While big-budget studios cashed in on the new paradigm of blockbuster success spear-headed by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, Altman followed-up his own commercial success (Nashville) with a narratively surreal little art-house film about a pair of unlikely friends who pretty much end up trading personalities. Consider it a Southern Californian take on Bergman’s Persona, and you’re really only touching on a small part of Altman’s weirdness: largely improvised and steeped in oneiric imagery, the film begs to be watched repeatedly, each successive viewing not so much clarifying what’s happening as just allowing its sublimity to set in. Whether 3 Women is a metaphorical take on Hollywood’s haste to discard personality for audience-tested popcorn fare, or it’s a kind of dusty tone poem about feminism in the late ’70s—it hardly matters. Better to feel out than figure out whatever it is Altman’s got going on in this lean masterpiece.—Dom Sinacola

force-majeure.jpg 64. Force Majeure
Year: 2014
Director: Ruben Östlund
Hidden behind this uncomfortably snickering fable about modern masculinity is something with no real patience for heteronormative nonsense. Though Force Majeure is mostly about a seemingly good dad who makes a bad split-decision while on vacation with his seemingly perfect family, the film would rather question the more primeval forces that bind us: monogamy, safety, companionship, blood and lust. This isn’t about a father who, in a brief moment of weakness, failed to protect his family, it’s about the dynamics of any relationship: Can we ever know the people we love most? Östlund asks this over and over, wreaking sickly funny havoc upon his male protagonist’s ego as he builds to a sweet little climax wherein this beaten-down bro revels in the chance to show his family his true colors.—Dom Sinacola

django-unchained.jpg 63. Django Unchained
Year: 2013
Director: Quentin Tarantino
The best thing about Quentin Tarantino is also the worst thing about Quentin Tarantino—he believes, wholeheartedly, in whatever he’s doing. Most of the time, what he’s doing consists of overly referential homage mashups with dialogue that would give most screenwriters carpal tunnel. The old video store clerk is sublime at saying important things through mediums that don’t usually convey them—Kung Fu films, revenge fantasies and spaghetti Westerns, for starters. He is an artist dressed as a Philistine, splattering the screen with cartoonish violence when what he’s really blowing is our minds. Although Tarantino’s latest effort isn’t his best, it is his most ambitious, and for someone capable of so much, that means quite a lot.—Tyler Chase

ida.jpg 62. Ida
Year: 2002
Director: Pawel Pawlikowski
Ida is a compelling examination of how the past shapes us, even when we don’t know anything about it. Pawel Pawlikowski’s quiet Polish film takes place in the 1960s, when World War II has ended, yet still has the power to grip people’s lives. In the title role, Agata Trzebuchowska brings the perfect mixture of naiveté and curiosity to the part of a nun-in-training who learns that her family was Jewish and killed during Nazi occupation. She embarks on an odyssey to find their graves with her cynical, alcoholic aunt (Agata Kulesza), who used to be a prosecutor for the communist government. The relationship between the two characters grows more and more complex as they go deeper down the rabbit hole. Shot in black-and-white and academy ratio (1.37:1), Ida uses its frame to distinct effect, often framing characters in the lower third of the screen (so much so that in a couple scenes, the subtitles have to go up above their heads). The effect can be unsettling, but intriguing. That space could contain the watchful power of Ida’s lord, but it could also be nothing more than an empty void. After a life of certitude, Ida has to decide for herself.—Jeremy Mathews

infernal-affairs.jpg 61. Infernal Affairs
Year: 2002
Director: Wai-keung Lau
Infernal Affairs left such an impression on Martin Scorsese that he translated the pulpy cop drama almost wholesale into The Departed’s Oscar gold, dialing down the original’s operatic tendencies and embracing the kind of hardcore nihilism that’s apparently supposed to make films like his seem more award-worthy. While the two are identical plot-wise, what Scorsese misses in his version is the gracefulness of gunplay through the eyes of those who treat each criminal transaction like a kind of artful dance. Scorsese’s action is blunt and unforgiving; Lau’s is kind of attractive and, at times, bracing with portent. If you ever watch a mob movie and wonder what characters find so seductive in such ugly lifestyles, Infernal Affairs answers your curiosities with crime that pays—in luxury, in respect, in the kinesthetic satisfaction of a job well done. And while both films follow two men as they wade through the gray area between organized crime and those who want to disorganize it, Infernal Affairs stays truer to that gray area. There’s nothing ambiguous about The Departed. Most notably, Scorsese’s ending is bleaker, and in its bleakness, is indefatigably black and white: Violence is wrong, police are good, but nothing—including justice—truly matters. Who really wants an action movie like that?—Dom Sinacola

inglourious_basterds_ver14.jpg 60. Inglourious Basterds
Year: 2009
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Quentin Tarantino’s dual loves of vengeance and cinema have never had a purer expression than the face of a Jewish cinematheque owner projected Oz-like onto the smoke of Nazis aflame…To an almost touching degree, Inglourious Basterds recognizes that the vengeance driving so many films—and certainly Tarantino’s own—is a cinematic impulse, a fantasy of light and sound, a bonfire of highly combustible nitrate film stock, cleanly separated from common sense and actual history. For once, Tarantino doesn’t allude left and right to other movies, but instead makes celluloid itself a literal part of the story. Put another way, he draws his story into the celluloid.—Robert Davis

y-tu-mama.jpg 59. Y Tu Mama Tambien
Year: 2001
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
A road trip along the coast of Mexico turns out to be one of sexual discovery for two punk teenagers (Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna). Meanwhile, the trip turns out to be the bittersweet final adventure for their older female companion (Maribel Verdu), as she struggles with a life full of regret and roads not yet traveled. Y Tu Mama Tambien is at times playful and seductive, but slowly reveals itself to be a substantive dual story involving both coming-of-age and coming-to-terms.—Jeremy Medina

stand-by-me.jpg 58. Stand By Me
Year: 1986
Director: Rob Reiner
Stephen King has referred to Stand By Me as one of the best-adapted films from his source material, which is curious, given that the blend of humor, coming-of-age drama and nostalgia hits only some of the horror author’s signature themes. It’s such a sincere film and story, though, one that really captures some of the mythological aspects of childhood—the way the junkyard dog’s fearsome reputation can’t possibly stand up to the reality, for instance. It’s a film about the healing aspect of friendship and how it differs after the loss of innocence. Gordie Lachance’s group of friends are the kinds of pals one has as a child—they come from very different worlds, but haven’t yet learned that they’re not supposed to hang out together. Would that real-life friendships could persist and reflect these ones more often.—Jim Vorel

let-the-right-one.jpg 57. Let the Right One In
Year: 2008
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Vampire stories are plastered all over American pop culture these days (True Blood, Twilight, The Vampire Diaries), but leave it to the Swedes to produce a vampire film that manages to be both sweet and frightening. The friendship between Oskar, a scrawny, 12-year-old outcast, and Eli, a centuries-old vampire frozen in the body of a child, is a chilling but beautiful story to behold.—Jeremy Medina

BattleshipPotemkin.jpg 56. Battleship Potemkin
Year: 1925
Director: Sergei M. Eisenstein
Because of brutal living conditions, the crew of the Prince Potemkin revolts against their cruel officers, igniting a rebellion in Russia and a violent massacre in Odessa. For the longest time, people considered Battleship Potemkin the greatest achievement in cinema. It may no longer have that acclaim, but it still makes most top ten lists and holds its ground as the greatest propaganda film of all time. At one point a few countries even banned it, afraid of its power to provoke political revolution. Many of its scenes, so visually poignant and thus unforgettable, have been referenced in modern movies like Brazil, The Untouchables and Naked Gun 33 1/3.—David Roark

fist-of-legend-netflix.jpg 55. Fist of Legend
Year: 1994
Director: Gordon Chan
Jet Li is one of the few kung fu practitioners who can make the claim that he’s played his own teacher and student—his character Chen Zhen is the student of Huo Yuanjia, who he then played 12 years later in Fearless. Fist of Legend, on the other hand, is essentially a remake of Bruce Lee’s Fist of Fury, another tale pitting Chinese nationalist against the oppression of Japanese invaders in the Second Sino-Japanese War. There’s nothing too fancy about the story: “You killed my master, and I’m going to get to the bottom of it.” What’s fancy is the fighting, because oh man, can Jet Li kick some serious ass in this one. Through most of the film, he’s seriously on another level, until he meets the seemingly superpowered Japanese guy who is the final villain. I actually prefer one of the earlier fights, though, when Jet takes on an entire school of Japanese karate students—and then punches their master right on the bottom of the foot in a particularly goofy bit of violence.—Jim Vorel

spinal-tap.jpg 54. This Is Spinal Tap
Year: 1984
Director: Rob Reiner
The only rock documentary worth watching, according to Kurt Cobain and Dave Grohl—next to Pennebaker’s Dont Look BackThis Is Spinal Tap isn’t really a documentary at all, though it aspires to so much more truth than any countless, beatific biopic that’s come out in the past couple decades or so. The story of a fictional metal/cock rock band told through talking head interviews that chronicle their iconic ups and downs, Spinal Tap is our best, early glimpse at the team who’d go on to make Waiting for Guffman, A Mighty Wind and Best in Show. While it isn’t the first of its kind, it feels like it could be: So deeply does it understand the world it parodies, Spinal Tap knows that a mockumentary is best a biopic of people who never existed, taking the personalities that define this starfucking realm and then, ever so slightly, ever so lovingly, cranking them to 11.—Dom Sinacola

conformist.jpg 53. The Conformist
Year: 1970
Director: Bernardo Bertolucci
Before The Conformist, Bertolucci had always been a master stylist, but here he worked within the strictures of noir and—excuse my hyperbole—made something of a perfect film. Proving that even the most common means of cinematic pulp could be used to transcendent ends, the director’s efforts found popular praise, garnering him both Oscar and Golden Globe nominations (among many), and paving the way for his riskier arthouse fare. Seemingly the director’s most political film, what it embodies more than an overt condemnation of fascism is a near peerless use of space, light and shadow to mirror an architecture of the mind, wherein an Italian bureaucrat (Jean-Louis Trintignant) mired within Mussolini’s fascist dictatorship must decide between playing by the rules or carving out his own identity.—Dom Sinacola

mud.jpg 52. Mud
Year: 2013
Director: Jeff Nichols
In 2011, Jeff Nichols turned heads at Sundance with his second film Take Shelter,as did his fast-rising stars Jessica Chastain and Michael Shannon. He returned two years later with Mud, a coming-of-age thriller about two young boys who encounter a man on the run in rural Arkansas. It’s a sweet tale that displays plenty of faith in humanity without ever veering into sappiness and always keeping you on the edge of your seat—just the kind of thing you hope to find at a festival like Sundance. And Nichols once again coaxes amazing performances from his cast, particularly Matthew McConaughey, just before the actor went to work on Dallas Buyer’s Club and True Detective.—Josh Jackson

sophies-choice.jpg 51. Sophie’s Choice
Year: 1982
Director: Alan J. Pakula
William Styron’s soul-shattering story of an ethereally beautiful concentration camp survivor is brought to life on screen by Meryl Streep. Streep learned to speak French with a Polish accent in order to preserve the integrity of one of the most important literary characters of the modern age. Alan Pakula allows Streep to do what she does best: She dons the character like a perfectly fitted coat. The result is one of the greatest film performances of all time. Sophie’s Choice is the embodiment of the horror of war and its aftermath.—Joan Radell

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