The 100 Best Movies on Netflix (January 2017)

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The 100 Best Movies on Netflix (January 2017)

Netflix started 2017 with a bunch of changes to its film catalog and a bunch of changes to our list of the best movies on Netflix. New additions include blockbusters like Captain America: Civil War and artistic indie films like Cemetery of Splendor, which made our Best Movies of 2016 list. Hopefully our movie guide will help you discover some great films this month.

For extensive guides to the best movies on other platforms like HBO, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Showtime, Redbox, On Demand, YouTube, Shudder and The Best Movies in Theaters, visit the Paste Movie Guides.

You can also check out our genre-specific lists:
The 50 Best Comedies on Netflix
The 60 Best Dramas on Netflix
The 60 Best Action Movies on Netflix
The 25 Best Sci-Fi Movies on Netflxi
The 50 Best Documentaries on Netflix
The 60 Best Horror Movies on Netflix
The 50 Best Romantic Comedies on Netflix
The 20 Best Animated Movies on Netflix
The 50 Best Foreign-Language Films on Netflix
The 20 Best Martial Arts Movies on Netflix.

Here are the 100 Best Movies Streaming on Netflix in January 2017:

pigeon.jpg 100. A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
Year: 2014
Director: Roy Andersson
Swedish writer-director Roy Andersson’s film avoids easy categorization. Through a series of vignettes—some connected, some not—we see snippets of life. Andersson fixes his camera in one spot and the action plays out in front of us: a group of older siblings tries to convince their dying sister not to take her handbag with her to Heaven, a bar of anonymous drinkers suddenly becomes a chorus, a woman in a dance troupe longs for her disinterested male cohort. And there are two stories that have subsequent episodes, including one featuring a couple of salesmen (Holger Andersson and Nils Westblom) who specialize in novelty joke items like fake vampire teeth. The specifics of what happens in these vignettes is less important than precisely how they’re constructed. Because of Andersson’s locked-down camera, each scene is comically static, like little skits of human behavior in which all the actors (most of them non-professionals) barely show any expression at all. (Adding to the theatricality and surreal oddness of the characters, Andersson puts white makeup on his performers, making them look like they’ve been drained of their vital fluids.) With no cuts and often incorporating exceptionally understated choreography within the frame, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence is a wonder to behold on formal terms: Andersson creates deceptively low-key movies that are actually quite visually and thematically sophisticated.—Tim Grierson


lo-and-behold.jpg 99. Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World
Year: 2016
Director: Werner Herzog 
Documentarian Werner Herzog likes to take on big topics in his films: Look no further than his remarkable portrait of America’s prison system, Into the Abyss. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that, in Lo and Behold, he tackles the Internet—all of it. This breezy, consistently thought-provoking documentary doesn’t purport to be exhaustive—what would such a film about the World Wide Web look like?—but it does offer a fascinating once-over of the internet’s glories and dangers, extolling its ability to connect people while at the same time worrying about its toxic skill at alienating us from each other and our true selves. It’s telling that Lo and Behold is a film in which Herzog doesn’t insert himself too much into the story: He’d prefer to have his cornucopia of guests guide the movie’s talking points. But it’s Herzog’s intelligence and curiosity that ties the whole thing together, reminding us again of his singular ability to wonder.—Tim Grierson


jesus-camp.jpg 98. Jesus Camp
Year: 2006
Directors: Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady
This hard-to-watch film follows three children who attend a charismatic Christian summer camp called Kids On Fire in North Dakota. The kids speak in tongues, believe global warming is a political conspiracy, and bless a cardboard cutout of George W. Bush. There’s no need for a narrator or editorial opinion—the footage says it all. It’s no surprise that the camp closed after the film’s release.—Kate Kiefer


frida.jpg 97. Frida
Year: 2002
Director: Julie Taymor
Inventive in its portrayal of the famous painter’s life, Frida even manages to free itself from the normal bounds of realism that most biopics adhere to. This is evident in how the movie even incorporates Kahlo’s vivid artist’s imagination into the depiction of the events of her life. Scene transitions are often still paintings come to life and Frida’s daydreams, however grandiose or fanciful they may be are played out in front of us alongside her real experiences. Through these fantasy-riddled moments and Salma Hayek’s moving performance as Kahlo, you really get a vivid sense of who Kahlo was as a woman. Kahlo’s life was the stuff of legend, but Hayek’s performance shows you the very human and flawed world behind all of that.—Anita George


love-actually.jpg 96. Love Actually
Year: 2003
Director: Richard Curtis
When it comes to portraying love confessions of all varieties, very few can beat the kind on display in Richard Curtis’ epic romantic comedy Love Actually. In one of the many romantic threads, Juliet (Keira Knightley), a recently married woman, has just discovered that her husband’s best friend Mark (Andrew Lincoln) has been nursing a secret crush on her. One night, he arrives at their front door and silently delivers his long repressed feelings via hand-drawn cue cards. While certainly sweet and heart-warming, the inherent sadness that pervades this scenario—such a relationship can never work out between the two—prevents the exchange from being overly saccharine.—Mark Rozeman


DOPE_CHARACTERS_R04_31_FINISH_HALF(1).jpg 95. Dope
Year: 2015
Director: Rick Famuyiwa
At its core, Dope is a coming-of-age story told from the black geek perspective. Malcolm (Shameik Moore) is a brainy high school student who’s trying to leave “The Bottoms” of Inglewood, California. This isn’t a straight-up, feel-good comedy—drugs and gangs aren’t easy comic fodder—but Dope satirizes preconceived notions of race and culture. Famuyiwa keeps things entertaining while still posing hard-hitting questions to the characters and audience. Dope’s infectious energy, and Famuyiwa’s tendency to throw genre and stereotypes to the wind, is refreshing. Dope is dope. —Christine N. Ziemba


tinker-tailor.jpg 94. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Year: 2011
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Steeped in the monochrome color palette and noir soundtrack of 1970s espionage cinema, Tomas Alfredson’s adaptation of John le Carré’s classic bestselling spy novel offers smart, nostalgic entertainment for a discerning adult audience. Set in 1973 at the height of the Cold War, the film turns on the suspicion that a double agent has infiltrated Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), a.k.a. MI6. Shortly after a botched operation to ferret out the mole ends his career, Control (John Hurt) dies, leaving his investigation in the hands of retired operative George Smiley (Gary Oldman). With grayed blond hair and owlish glasses, Oldman disappears into his role, not only physically but behaviorally. Smiley is a still man, watching and waiting, while his mind whirs, processing and analyzing years’ worth of data, information and memories.—Annlee Ellingson


chef.jpg 93. Chef
Year: 1996
Director: Jon Favreau 
Jon Favreau took a break between the $163 million dollar Cowboys & Aliens and Disney’s live-action remake of The Jungle Book to write, direct and star in a small indie comedy-drama about a celebrated chef rediscovering his love for food. When the owner of his restaurant (Dustin Hoffman) won’t let him experiment in the kitchen and his social-media ignorance leads to a very public feud with a food critic (Oliver Platt), he quits and buys a food truck. The road-trip that follows is the sweet, earnest heart of the film—reconnecting with his son as he reconnects with a passion for food. There’s not much to the straight-forward plot, but the film’s humor and mouth-watering food porn make it a treat.—Josh Jackson


2-Netflix-Docs_2015-grizzly man.jpg 92. Grizzly Man
Director:   Werner Herzog  
Year: 2005
Leave it to Werner Herzog to take on a subject as peculiar and tragic as that of Timothy Treadwell, the bear enthusiast who, along with his girlfriend, was killed by his wild obsession in 2003. A sing-songy, pleasant, dangerously deluded man who believed his beloved grizzly companions knew and trusted him, Treadwell, over the course of 13 summers spent in Alaskan national parks, approached bears with both a religious reverence and folksy casualness—the latter of which arguably cost him his life. Treadwell self-anoints himself “kind warrior” and, alternately, “samurai,” and at one point tellingly declares that animals rule, but “Timothy conquered.” Rooted in Treadwell’s own footage, Grizzly Man will divide camps between those who find him a reckless idiot and those who enjoy him as a kooky nature lover, or both. For his part, Herzog is a sympathetic yet level-headed narrator, his even voice and expositional asides setting the tone for a restrained, expertly crafted film. Far from exploitative—existing audio footage of the couple’s death is not heard onscreen, just reacted to and discussed—Grizzly Man is a sensitive, supremely fascinating glimpse of the primal forces within us and apart from us, and what happens when they can’t be reconciled.—Amanda Schurr


girl-who-walks-home-alone.jpg 91. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Year: 2014
Director: Ana Lily Amirpour
The ravishing look of writer-director Ana Lily Amirpour’s feature debut is so enveloping that it doesn’t much matter that not a lot happens within the frame. Draped in dreamy black-and-white and scored with proto-Morricone instrumentals and evocative goth-rock, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night proudly stakes its claim as an aspiring cult classic. Advertising itself as “the first Iranian Vampire Western,” the film transcends just about every word in that description, and yet it has the defiant one-dimensionality of a lurid graphic novel. The film stars Sheila Vand (Argo) as the titular girl. She lives in Bad City, a desert community littered with slowly churning oil derricks and an unsettling open pit where dead bodies are dumped. This unnamed character walks the city streets at night decked out in a chador, which makes her look like a superhero. More accurately, she’s a vampire, feasting indiscriminately on men deserving of the grisly fate. (Pimps and other baddies seem to be favored targets.) The other important character is Arash (Arash Marandi), a strikingly handsome young man who takes a liking to this mysterious woman, not knowing her true identity. Shot in Southern California, A Girl Walks is a triumph of high-contrast lighting, the dark shadows coexisting with the flickering streetlights. Like Jim Jarmusch, Amirpour enjoys playing around with genres from an ironic distance, letting her noir-ish tone set the terms for everything else that goes into the film. She has a knack for the finely tuned marriage of sound and picture, drafting scenes and moments that stun the senses.—Tim Grierson


philomena.jpg 90. Philomena
Year: 2004
Director: Stephen Frears
Philomena, follows a woman’s search for her son, who was “sold off” by the Irish Catholic church 50 years earlier. Starring Judi Dench and Steve Coogan, the heartbreaking twists and turns of Philomena’s journey are even more jaw-dropping as we learn the story is based on the 2009 nonfiction book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, by BBC correspondent Martin Sixsmith. In 1950s Ireland young Philomena (Sophie Kennedy Clarke) is disowned by her family after a tryst results in pregnancy. Sent to Roscrea convent, she works in the laundries to pay for her room and board—and her sins. She and the other young mothers are allowed to see their children for an hour a day. Philomena and her son Anthony adhere to this limited schedule for nearly three years until Anthony is adopted, against her wishes, on Christmas 1955. Nearly five decades later, the elderly Philomena (Dench) reveals the secret she’s been keeping all these years to her daughter. They reach out to Sixsmith (Coogan), a recently fired British government flack and former BBC journalist, to help Philomena search for her lost son. Although talking about “chemistry” is usually reserved for romantic onscreen relationships, it applies here in spades. Dench and Coogan create a believable rapport for their disparate characters. They play with the yin and yang expertly, and we watch as the characters both grow from their experience together in subtle, yet substantial, ways. The bittersweet mystery could have easily strayed into maudlin, tabloid territory, if it solely targeted evil nuns or a Catholic Church coverup. But instead, Philomena adds much-needed moments of humor s it follows the journey for the truth, raising questions about faith, infallibility and family. The steady direction by Frears, coupled with the snappy and substantive dialogue, keeps the film grounded when even the truth becomes hard to believe.—Christine N. Ziemba


i-am-love.jpg 89. I Am Love
Year: 2010
Director: Luca Guadagnino
The Recchi family, the powerful Italian clan at the core of Luca Guadagnino’s I Am Love, is exclusive. Its wealth is nearly immeasurable, if not incomprehensible, and even marrying into it doesn’t warrant an invitation to its inner circle. Although Emma (Tilda Swinton) gave up her life in Russia—with the exception of her Russian accent, which she just can’t keep from tainting her Italian—in order to become a Recchi, she orbits the rest of the family in the Recchi villa, where the sense of propriety is nearly as tangible and cloying as its thick tapestries. I Am Love is a beautiful film, and a lesson in storytelling. It unfolds at a leisurely but lovely pace, taking time to revel in the details of the setting but never shifting focus from its many rich, complex characters. Swinton becomes Emma, her every pore and follicle embodying passion, guilt and grief with equal conviction. Even in its most tense moments, I Am Love is like the many dishes Antonio shows off in the film—painstakingly created and never overdone.—Ani Vrabel


boy-movie.jpg 88. Boy
Year: 2010
Director: Taika Waititi
“Can you stop calling me ‘dad’? It sounds weird,” isn’t a line you’d expect from a feel-good coming-of-age movie. And the suggestion that follows, “How about ‘Shogun’? I like that,” puts Boy squarely in the realm of comedy. But Boy isn’t exactly a feel-good movie, though it will make you laugh. It’s a movie about crushing failure, personal identity, and the possibility of hope as experienced in one M?ori family, circa 1984. What separates Boy from other movies in its category is its child-centeredness. These kids’ fantasy world, which includes not only Boy’s humorous revisions but Rocky’s belief that he has magical powers and can change reality around him simple by raising his hand and concentrating, creates just the right amount of irony to make the much harsher “real” world believable. The movie’s power lies in how the irony collapses.—Aaron Belz


seymour-intro.jpg 87. Seymour: An Introduction
Year: 2015
Director: Ethan Hawke 
You could be excused for assuming that the documentary Seymour: An Introduction was just a vanity project for director Ethan Hawke, who has the means and the name to engage in such thing. But if you assumed that, you’d be missing quite a powerful film. Hawke first met composer, pianist and piano teacher Seymour Bernstein at a dinner party, and was immediately taken with him, as viewers will be, as well. As he began spending more time with the octogenarian, he became more and more taken not only with his life story, but also with his views of art and of life well lived. Seymour: An Introduction turns out to be part biopic, part artistic musing and part late-night “meaning of life” discussion, and Hawke shows a deft touch in balancing the three. He takes a remarkable individual who’s influenced his life and thinking, and shares him with the rest of us. It’s a generous—and a moving—piece of filmmaking. —Michael Dunaway


drinking-buddies.jpg 86. Drinking Buddies
Year: 2013
Director: Joe Swanberg 
If you feel compelled to go full indie and can’t stand love stories with tidy, happy endings, Drinking Buddies should be your pick. It’s an unconventional romance in that most of the characters never commit to the relationships or infidelities we expect them to. Instead, it’s about temptation, the lies we tell ourselves in a relationship and the boundaries between friendship and romantic feelings. A scion of—but not full-fledged entry into—the mumblecore genre, its largely improvised dialog lends an air of reality to the conversations, but those expecting typical genre conventions may find themselves perplexed when you don’t get anything resembling the “wedding bells” ending of the typical romantic comedy.—Jim Vorel


blue-warmest.jpg 85. Blue is the Warmest Color
Year: 2013
Director: Abdellatif Kechiche
Three-hour movies usually are the terrain of Westerns, period epics or sweeping, tragic romances. They don’t tend to be intimate character pieces, but Blue Is the Warmest Color (La Vie D’Adèle Chapitres 1 et 2) more than justifies its length. A beautiful, wise, erotic, devastating love story, this tale of a young lesbian couple’s beginning, middle and possible end utilizes its running time to give us a full sense of two individuals growing together and apart over the course of years. It hurts like real life, yet leaves you enraptured by its power.—Tim Grierson


beverly-hills-cop.jpg 84. Beverly Hills Cop
Year: 1984
Directors: Martin Brest
We might remember Beverly Hills Cop for Eddie Murphy’s one-liners and that perfect microcosm of 1984, “Axel F,” but at its heart, it’s an action movie. In fact, Mickey Rourke and Sylvester Stallone were both attached to Murphy’s role before last-minute re-writes catered the story to the SNL actor. And this was Murphy at his cocky, wise-cracking best—always in complete charge of the situation no matter how much of a fish-out-of-water his Axel Foley might have been.—Josh Jackson


short-term-12.jpg 83. Short Term 12
Year: 2013
Director: Destin Cretton
As it progresses, Short Term 12 remains rigorously structured in terms of plot; yet it never feels calculated. In fact, the film serves as a fine example of how invisible screenwriting can be. By allowing his characters’ irrational emotions to influence events and instigate key turning points, Cretton capably masks the film’s finely calibrated story mechanics. And while everything seemingly comes to a head during a key crisis, it’s only fitting that the story ends with a denouement that bookends its opening. Cretton’s clear-eyed film is far too honest to try and convince us that there’s been any sort of profound change for Grace or anyone else. Instead, it’s content to serve as a potent reminder that tentative first steps can be every bit as narratively compelling as great leaps of faith.—Curtis Woloschuk


wet-hot-am-sum.jpg 82. Wet Hot American Summer
Year: 2001
Director: David Wain
A cult film that’s long since surpassed that status, Wet Hot American Summer is a lot of things: It’s hilarious; it’s perfectly cast; and it’s a clear demonstration that Christopher Meloni has more range than simply playing a dour sex crime detective. But what makes it so brilliant, 15 years later and with a Netflix series on lock, is that it’s so painfully, relentlessly nihilistic. We could trade quotable lines for days (my personal favorites being what Jon Benjamin’s can of vegetables admits he’s acrobatically capable of, and then Paul Rudd bluntly refusing to make out with Elizabeth Banks’s character due to her burger flavor), but the key to the movie’s endurance—past its timelessness grounded in a specific brand of ’80s sex romp flick—is the way in which it treats nostalgia. Like Wain, Michael Showalter and Michael Ian Black’s Stella series, Wet Hot American Summer, which takes place over the course of Camp Firewood’s last day, exists in a bleakly amoral world. Here, bad things happen to good people—and really only to good people. Wain takes innocence and obliterates it, punishes it, gleefully destroying all nice memories anyone would ever hold dear about long lost summers, first loves and youth. Without a shred of wistfulness, Wet Hot American Summer surpasses its origins in parody and becomes something more: It earns its comedy. Taunting our very explicitly American tendency to let everything we touch devolve into sentimentality, the film proves that when we obsess over remembering ourselves at our best, we might as well be celebrating us at our worst. —Dom Sinacola


upstream-color.jpg 81. Upstream Color
Year: 2012
Director: Shane Carruth
Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color builds a stunning mosaic of lives overwhelmed by decisions outside their control, of people who don’t understand the impulses that rule their lives. Told with stylistic bravado and minimal dialogue (none in the last 30 minutes), the film continually finds new ways to evoke unexpected feelings. The visuals—from underwater schist to microscopic photography—combine with extraordinary sound design and rhythmic cross-cutting to create a hypnotic portrait of the story’s intertwined lives. The means to the interconnectivity is a small worm whose parasitic endeavors link lives together. But Carruth doesn’t bother with expository sci-fi gibberish. The organism does what it does, and that’s all we need to know. This allows more time to explore the emotional impact the organism has on the characters. Ultimately, that’s where Upstream Color succeeds. An elaborate intellectual concept fuels the film, but a rich sense of humanity gives it power.—Jeremy Matthews


the-big-short.jpg 80. The Big Short
Year: 2015
Director: Adam McKay 
The Big Short, Adam McKay’s kaleidoscopic look into the months leading up to the 2007 financial meltdown, is an angry film. And rightfully so—the amount of callous thievery characters uncover here is enough to make any rational person’s blood boil. It’s also, unquestionably, a funny film, tempering its acerbic leanings by highlighting just how blatantly surreal the whole ordeal truly was. McKay looks to counteract the inherently dry, impenetrable subject matter on display with boatloads of vibrant, cinematic style. The Big Short may not always succeed, but it stands as an essential film nonetheless.—Mark Rozeman


heaven_knows_what_poster.jpg 79. Heaven Knows What
Year: 2015
Director: Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie
Harley (Arielle Holmes) is a young woman who’s as addicted to heroin as she is to her brutally apathetic boyfriend, Illya (Caleb Landry Jones). Aesthetically, the Safdies’ have made a picture of urgent, abrasive beauty. Cinematographer Sean Price Williams captures Holmes and her excellent supporting cast through a combination of tight close-ups and long shots that lend the film an air of removed intimacy. Ultimately, he’s almost as much the star of Heaven Knows What as Holmes, who matches up well with Jones, the film’s most notable professional actor. Cinema lets us engage with difficult subject matter through a veneer of security. But something like Heaven Knows What pierces that veil. By its very nature, it pushes the boundaries of our personal comfort. It’s clear we need more films like that. —Andy Crump


frank.jpg 78. Frank
Year: 2014
Director: Lenny Abrahamson
It’s hard to read Frank’s emotions because his facial expression never changes. How could it? It’s painted on. Walking around with a big, spherical paper mâché head, he looks like a walking cartoon character. But unlike the folks at Disneyland, Frank plays bizarre, haunting music with disorienting melodies and foreign, electronic tones. It would all be quite intimidating if his disembodied voice weren’t so darn friendly. The title character in Frank looks like Frank Sidebottom, the alter ego of British comedian and outsider musician Chris Sievey. But Frank is a variation on a theme in a contemporary setting rather than a true story. The film enters Frank’s world through the eyes of Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), a young, aspiring musician who doesn’t have much to say or any ideas how to say it. He lives a comfy life at home until he is swept into the adventurous life of a band on the road, driving all night and playing to empty rooms. He sees the romance, but is rather slow to pick up on some of the anguish and mental illness that his bandmates suffer. Frank doesn’t just wear the head for shows—he never takes it off. Michael Fassbender has the most difficult job of any cast member, as he has to create the character of Frank without any facial expressions. He uses his voice and body language to express excitement, a welcoming nature and varying degrees of anxiety. Director Lenny Abrahamson finds plenty of humor in his band of misfit characters, but the movie doesn’t treat their odd behavior as mere fodder for slapstick. The movie’s heart lies in its understanding of their fragility. At the film’s finale, Fassbender’s stirring performance reminds us of the power that can be had simply by singing the song you want to sing.—Jeremy Mathews


breatheposter.jpg 77. Breathe
Year: 2014
Director: Mélanie Laurent
Nothing’s more effective at shaking a teen out of their monotonous high school routine than the arrival of a new student. That’s the stuff actress/director Mélanie Laurent’s sophomore film, Breathe, is made of: mystery and allure, with generous dollops of adolescent rivalry, sexual awakening and verbal abuse spooned on top. Think of Breatheas a distant European cousin to the fraught teen movies of Larry Clark as well as Catherine Hardwicke’s Thirteen, stories of imperiled youth, loneliness and volatile sentiment. —Andy Crump


phoenix_ver2.jpg 76. Phoenix
Year: 2014
Director: Christian Petzold
Rarely in recent memory has the insoluble mystery of other people been so potent a driving force as it is in Phoenix. Here’s a drama that starts off with a seemingly simple conceit but eventually grows more and more troubling—and fascinating—into a critique of collective moral blindness and an up-close examination of marriage. The latest from German filmmaker Christian Petzold, Phoenix works best for all the answers it doesn’t provide, honoring the mysteries of everyday life rather than explaining them away.—Tim Grierson


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