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The 60 Best Dramas on Netflix (2017)

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The 60 Best Dramas on Netflix (2017)

Netflix  lists nearly 1,200 movies in the drama category, and as you’d expect, not all of them are great. Drama is the broadest of genres and difficult to define. Basically anything that doesn’t fall into comedy, horror, action/adventure or sci-fi gets lumped into the catch-all, and even then there’s overlap. How funny can a movie be and still be “serious”? How much tension must be internal or inter-personal or can it still have a little action? The problem is that drama is a key ingredient of all movies. But when you’re in the mood for a dramatic movie, we think we know what you’re looking for. And so does Netflix. We’ve let the streaming service define the term here, pulling from movies it classifies as dramas.

Here are the 60 Best Dramas currently streaming on Netflix:

bella.jpg 60. Bella
Year: 2007
Director: Alejandro Gomez Monteverde
Bella is a delicate but powerful story of grace. When restauranteur Manny fires waitress Nina, Manny’s brother José, a cook, quits in protest, right before the lunch rush. José and Nina end up spending the day together, lining Nina up with a new job and taking the train to José’s tightly knit family’s house. The immediate question raised—one that confuses the newly pregnant Nina, and José’s own family—is why he made the impetuous decision to walk out on his brother and take up the role of Nina’s protector, especially as it becomes clear that he has something of a glamorous history. But as their quiet conversations slowly open up throughout the day, we learn that it’s his past mistakes that motivate his unexpected actions. The film steadily strums at your heartstrings, but it plays a gentle Nick Drake-like melody, always sweet but rarely melodramatic. With stellar, understated performances from Eduardo Verastegui and Tammy Blanchard, it’s easy to see why this film won the audience award at the Toronto International Film Festival.—Josh Jackson


adventureland.jpg 59. Adventureland
Year: 2009
Director: Greg Mottola
Adventureland is a part of a long tradition of autobiographical coming-of-age stories. It’s reasonable to assume these stories remain so popular because they’re personal to filmmakers, but curiously, the actual movies are almost all the same—quirky caricatures of youth spliced with the usual awkward rites and first loves. Together they create a fantasy of shared adolescent experience that’s easy to embrace, especially since it usually ends with a smooth welcome into the future. Adventureland does not break from this, and yet it feels special—light, easy to like and more forthright than one would expect. Set in 1987, when writer-director Greg Mottola was the same age as the characters, the movie considers James (Jesse Eisenberg), a recent college grad whose plans for a European summer morph into a season at the eponymous local park. The stock population is all there: the unhinged boss (Bill Hader), the nerdy sage (Martin Starr) and, of course, the kindred soul (Kristen Stewart). Booze, hash brownies, malicious elders and romantic entanglements complicate things, but not by much. Mottola made Superbad, a very funny movie that became a phenomenon, but he insists on a more modest approach here. The movie works harder to suggest a mood than it does to get laughs, and that’s no small thing, especially since its writer-director spent a decade under the influence of Judd Apatow. On the way out of Adventureland, there may not be any eminently quotable lines or gags, but there is the rare sense of satisfaction that comes from a story told through careful, patient eyes.—Jeffrey Bloomer


force-majeure.jpg 58. Force Majeure
Director: Ruben Östlund
Year: 2014
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


pigeon.jpg 57. 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


hellion.jpg 56. Hellion
Year: 2013
Director: Kat Candler
Kat Candler’s Hellion is set in the aftermath of a family losing its matriarch, and no one is handling her death very well. Jacob (Josh Wiggins) is the titular hell-raising pre-teen who takes his younger brother on dangerous adventures in vandalism. Aaron Paul is his grief-stricken father trying desperately to hold the family together. Jacob sees a motocross rally as his chance for some redemption, but this is no heart-warming sports movie. It’s an intimate look at a difficult childhood offering no easy answers, but one that leads you to care deeply about its flawed but sympathetic characters.—Josh Jackson


tinker-tailor.jpg 55. 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


magic-mike.jpg 54. Magic Mike
Year: 2012
Director: Steven Soderbergh 
Hot producer-star Channing Tatum draws from his personal history for this raucous comedy-drama set in Tampa’s Xquisite Male Dance Revue. Tatum worked as a stripper for eight months early in his career, and if Magic Mike is any indication, it was a good time for both the ladies and the performers—the movie certainly is. Along with a solid script by Tatum’s producing partner Reid Carolin, director-cinematographer Steven Soderbergh (who took a low-budget, highly experimental look at the life of a high-end call girl in The Girlfriend Experience) brings a warm golden aesthetic that’s at once polished and serendipitous. The way the sunlight dapples the actors’ bodies during a sunset beach scene is particularly lovely. But Magic Mike would hardly be as magical without Tatum, whose good looks, athletic physicality, easygoing charm and heart-on-his-sleeve sincerity are as seductive to moviegoers as to the women he dances for on-screen.—Annlee Ellingson


blue-warmest.jpg 53. 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


contact-film-poster.jpg 52. Contact
Year: 1997
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Contact seems almost calculated as the sort of cerebral sci-fi to appeal to critics rather than multiplex audiences, who could be frustrated with its philosophical, open-ended conclusion about “first contact” that questions whether any of what Jodie Foster’s character experienced really happened at all. Still, Contact is a beautiful film about the struggle between the tangible and the ephemeral, between faith, intellect and ambition. Ellie (Foster) is innately sympathetic, a woman with a selfless streak who nonetheless on some level seeks a very personal validation in being chosen as humanity’s representative to meet an alien race. The film challenges us to consider the depth of our inconsequential standing in the universe, and how different aspects of humanity, both beautiful and hideous, would present themselves after the revelation of a “higher power.” Add to this an impressive cast that includes Foster, John Hurt, James Woods, William Fichtner, Rob Lowe, Tom Skerritt, David Morse and Matthew McConaughey (years before the current McConaissance), and you can overlook the presence of Jake Busey in one of the best examples of “hard sci-fi” in the 1990s. —Jim Vorel


short-term-12.jpg 51. 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


upstream-color.jpg 50. 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 Mathews


heathers_poster.jpg 49. Heathers
Year: 1988
Director: Michael Lehmann
Heathers might look like another teen comedy, but it’s probably the darkest and most brutal movie on this list. It’s a cynical deconstruction of the typical high school comedy, turning peer pressure fatal and elevating the stakes from social lives to actual lives. It smartly subverts one of the stalest genres of comedy, and still remains edgy almost 30 years later. —Garrett Martin


the-big-short.jpg 48. 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 47. 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 46. 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 45. 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 44. 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


the-killer.jpg 43. The Killer
Year: 1989
Director: John Woo
The Killer is one of a few reasons that Chow Yun-fat will maintain unquestionable badass status until the day he dies. A perfect fusion of magnetic star and hyperkinetic director, it may be the most essential film in John Woo’s impressive, sprawling filmography. Chow plays a hitman who, in the way of these films, is trying to leave the business. Of course he gets roped back in for the old “one last job” spiel, in this case to help a young, blinded woman from his past. The plot is simply a web of cliches; the film is a classic for the glorious, crazy, over-the-top gun battles and fight scenes. With akimbo pistols never seemingly needing reloading, Woo’s style of “gun fu” was extremely influential on directors such as Quentin Tarantino. John Wick is basically, in its aesthetics, a love letter to The Killer.—Jim Vorel


aint-them-bodies-saints-poster.jpg 42. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints
Year: 2013
Director: David Lowery
At the risk of sounding a bit melodramatic, it must be said that Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is not a movie; it’s a feeling. Director David Lowery took the rugged, Americana feel of a great western, the overwhelming sentimentality of a tragic romance, the thrill of a crime drama, and the sound and tempo of some kind of epic Southern odyssey, and he created a new feeling…Casey Affleck is the standout actor, and this is his saga. Down to his very jawline, Affleck captures the physicality and feeling of a sincerely romantic outlaw. —Shannon M. Houston


aquarius.jpg 41. Aquarius
Year: 2016
Director: Kleber Mendonça Filho
Clara is one of the great heroines in contemporary cinema, and her story is one that will endure. By the movie’s climax, one woman’s struggle to hold on to her apartment takes on a dramatic weight found in the most ambitious, large-scale epics—yet Filho’s touch couldn’t be lighter. His direction is elegant and restrained, because he has the confidence not to force his effects. He believes in his ideas, and knows they’ll deepen and expand in the viewer’s mind if he just presents them unadorned. Undoubtedly, part of his confidence comes from the gift he got from Braga, who gives not only the performance of her career but one of the greatest performances by any actress in any movie, ever. She does the same thing with her voice, face and body that Filho does with his camera, finding economical gestures that express infinite emotions and ideas. I can’t think of many other roles that so fully encapsulate the human condition in all its humor, tragedy, loss, triumph, eroticism, weariness, fear and hope. —Jim Hemphill


imitation-game.jpg 40. The Imitation Game
Year: 2014
Director: Morten Tyldum
The historical thriller The Imitation Game is precisely the type of film studios love to dangle as Oscar bait. It focuses on a relatively unknown, yet significant, World War II code-cracking project and features a socially awkward genius as its protagonist. It doesn’t hurt that the aforementioned hero and his compatriots are Brits. Noted mathematician and cryptanalyst Alan Turing is often considered the father of modern computer science, but his most consequential work—conducted as a WWII codebreaker—remained largely unknown until the British government declassified related documents in the 1970s. The Imitation Game, with Benedict Cumberbatch as the eccentric Turing, focuses on his wartime tenure at the Government Code and Cypher School in Bletchley Park, located about 50 miles northwest of London. In the confines of the nondescript Quonset Hut 8, Turing leads a team of prototype hackers to decipher Germany’s Enigma machine codes. Their work is said to have shortened the length of the war by several years. Cumberbatch gives an intense performance as the brilliant loner with behavior that registers along the autism spectrum. While he indulges in too much scenery chewing and stammering, Cumberbatch creates a memorable character who is at once fascinating and off-putting. The only person squarely on Turing’s side is Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), an astute mathematician recruited for the testosterone-heavy team. Knightley shows off a dynamic range as she plays a dutiful daughter, torn between obligations to her parents and her country. Norwegian director Morten Tyldum, known best for 2011’s Headhunters, and scribe Graham Moore keep the tension high, even when the hackers and decoders are conducting tedious work. The supporting actors transcend their one-note characters and capture the audience’s attention. —Christine N. Ziemba


gomorrah.jpg 39. Gomorrah
Year: 2008
Director: Matteo Garrone
Gritty like The Godfather or the work of Martin Scorsese, Gomorrah depicts five microcosmic stories of the brutal underground mafia scene in Naples. The cast of largely untrained actors only enhances the film’s grim authenticity, and that authenticity is bolstered by the fact that the film’s source material, the bestselling book of same name, required author Roberto Saviano to get a permanent police escort. Harrowing in its matter-of-factness, the Academy criminally overlooked one of 2008’s best by not nominating it for Best Foreign Film. —Jeremy Medina


nightcrawler.jpg 38. Nightcrawler
Year: 2014
Director: Dan Gilroy
“A screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut.” That’s the image Nina (Rene Russo) evokes when describing her news program in director Dan Gilroy’s tremendous thriller Nightcrawler. It’s tempting to adopt that as a metaphor for the entire film—Gilroy’s first, by the way, which makes his achievement doubly impressive—but while that is definitely part of the equation, what drives this movie forward is the menace that lurks just below the surface, beneath a calm exterior personified by Jake Gyllenhaal’s Louis Bloom. A nocturnal rambler who scrounges for anything he can steal and sell, Lou is a motivated self-starter. Full of meaningful acronyms, manufactured self-confidence, and drive powered by self-improvement seminars, catchphrase wisdom and insight, he’s looking for a career to break into on the ground floor. When he comes across the lucrative world of nightcrawlers, freelance stringers who race after breaking news stories—the bloodier, the better is the prevailing wisdom—he has the ambition, opportunity and, most importantly, the moral flexibility to excel. Gyllenhaal, who shed in excess of 30 pounds for the role, has rarely—if ever—been better. Lou is calm, frank, goal-oriented and even borders on charming at times, but this measured exterior belies the inherent violence you spend the entire movie waiting to see erupt. Nightcrawler is tense and intense, ferocious and obsessed, and crackles with energy and a dark sense of humor. —Brent McKnight


the commitments poster.png 37. The Commitments
Year: 1991
Director: Alan Parker
The Commitments might’ve single-handedly created the working classic Irish musician genre. It’s hard to watch Sing Street or Once (whose star, Glen Hansard, also appears in The Commitments) without thinking back to this movie about a blue-eyed soul band in Dublin and their struggles to stay together despite community indifference and regular in-fighting. It’s a drama no doubt, but there’s also tremendous humor here, and an uncommon degree of warmth and humanity. —Garrett Martin


beginners.jpg 36. Beginners
Year: 2011
Director: Mike Mills
Beginners is directed by Mike Mills, who hasn’t made a feature film since 2005’s Thumbsucker. And this time, Mills drew on his own life for the story of Beginners. Like Hal, Mills’ father also came out of the closet after the death of his mother. Cancer took both of his parents and there’s a subtle jab at smoking in the film. But Beginners is not a message movie; it’s an ambitious play on coming-of-age late in life, of course for Hal but also very much for Oliver, and perhaps for Mills himself. —Jonathan Hickman


high-rise.jpg 35. High-Rise
Year: 2016
Director: Ben Wheatley
High-Rise begins with the past tense of Wheatley’s traditional mayhem, settling on tranquil scenes of extensive carnage and brutal violence inflicted before the picture’s start. Dashing Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) wanders waste-strewn halls. He goes to have a drink with his neighbor, Nathan Steele (Reece Shearsmith), who has enshrined a dead man’s head within a television set. Seems about right. But the film’s displays of squalor and viscera are a ruse. Spoken in the tongue of Wheatley, High-Rise is a tamer tale than Kill List or Sightseers. That isn’t a bad thing, of course, but if you go into Wheatley films anticipating unhinged barbarity, you may feel as though the film and its creator are trolling you here. High-Rise is based on English novelist’s J.G. Ballard’s 1975 novel of the same name, a soft sci-fi dystopian yarn fastened to a through line of social examination. In context with its decade, the book’s setting could be roughly described as “near future England,” and Wheatley, a director with a keen sense of time and place across all of his films, has kept the period of the text’s publication intact, fleshing it out with alternately lush and dreggy mise en scène. If you didn’t know any better, you might assume that High-Rise is a lost relic of 1970s American cinema. —Andy Crump


clouds-of-sils-maria.jpg 34. Clouds of Sils Maria
Year: 2015
Director: Olivier Assayas
In just about anyone else’s hands, Clouds of Sils Maria could try one’s patience. A character study of actress Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) revisiting one of her earliest theatrical triumphs—except this time, she’s playing the older, more tragic character, not the young, confident beauty—the latest from French filmmaker Olivier Assayas risks being such an insular, rarified project that it never escapes its navel-gazing concerns about creativity and celebrity. But Assayas largely transforms such potentially precious material into something far more rewarding and, ultimately, ambivalent. It’s not new for an artist to create a work about the nature of making art, but Clouds of Sils Maria soon becomes a larger portrait about how we interpret (and reinterpret) that art based on our own experiences and biases. A movie of internal puzzles, it consistently hints at something more sinister or provocative just around the corner. It’s a movie so psychologically rich that its outer trappings soon give way to universal anxieties about what exactly defines us. With a film this attuned to the complexity (and unraveling) of identity, it’s barely a surprise when one of the characters literally disappears from the story. —Tim Grierson


i-dont-feel.jpg 33. I don’t feel at home in this world anymore.
Year: 2017
Director: Macon Blair
Winner of the U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance, writer-director Macon Blair’s debut feature is a tonally audacious genre outing unafraid to slip for a moment or two into the sweet relief of magical realism. Blair’s premise is simple—Ruth (Melanie Lynskey, cast to perfection), a quiet loner, comes home to find her house robbed, and when the police won’t help, she seeks vigilante justice with equally socially inept neighbor, Tony (Elijah Wood)—but his ever-increasingly sprawling plot is fueled by a myopic moral perspective rendered in black and white. Ruth wonders aloud why everyone is an asshole (moreso, why assholes so easily get away with being assholes), and Blair seemingly wonders the same thing, punctuating his mundane neo-noir with gruesome violence and unexpected physical comedy (a projectile vomit scene, in particular, rivals the classic back-alley puke-fest from Team America). Blair’s worked extensively with his friend Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room), so the two share a startling sense of pace and a knack for making even the most sloppy action sequences feel precise, but Saulnier is so much bleaker, whereas Blair allows each of his film’s supposed assholes a chance to redeem, or at least explain, themselves. A crappy cop is going through a messy divorce; a delinquent son acts out against the specter of an absentee father; a guy whose dog craps on your lawn just wasn’t really paying attention—as Ruth struggles to confront the callousness of her cold world, she realizes that we’re all pretty much doing the same thing too: We’re struggling. —Dom Sinacola


african-queen.jpg 32. The African Queen
Year: 1951
Director: John Huston
The madcap, screwball comedies of the ‘30s and ‘40s helped set the template for the battle-of-the-sexes comedies that would populate American cinemas for years to come (and still do, to some extent). Writer/director John Huston’s genius in making The African Queen was taking the feuding couple out of the metropolitan areas for which they’d often been associated with and instead placing them square in the middle of an inhospitable jungle. With the added element of survival driving their journey, the flirtatious banter between classy widow Rose Sayer (Katherine Hepburn) and crass boatman Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart) crackles all the more, making for a rom-com as vicious as it is sweet. —Mark Rozeman


experimenter.jpg 31. Experimenter
Year: 2015
Director: Michael Almereyda
Watching Experimenter is to realize how little life is in most biopics. Which is odd: Despite being based on a real life, the standard biopic feels freeze-dried, narrative conventions calcifying the subject matter and strangling any spontaneity out of the material. Most such movies carry the stench of rigor mortis, but Experimenter is alive and alert from its first moment. Where other biopics seem to have made up their minds about their famous figures before the opening credits roll, this remarkable study of social psychologist Stanley Milgram remains curious, exploring and questioning his life, career and findings. The man’s work may be more than 50 years old, but a film about his work couldn’t be timelier—partly because of that work’s still-resonant lessons, and partly because writer-director Michael Almereyda has crafted a bracing, daring drama that extrapolates it into every crevice of modernity. Many biopics simplify great lives; Experimenter enriches and enlarges one. —Tim Grierson

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