The 50 Best Thrillers on Netflix

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The 50 Best Thrillers on Netflix

The thriller has been a cinema staple ever since Alfred Hitchcock kept us in suspense with his silent serial killer film The Lodger in 1927. The story may be fictional, but if the telling is masterful enough, the tension we feel is real. From tales of the supernatural to spy chases to psychological dramas, the thriller is a broad and hard-to-define genre—you’ll see overlap with our Best Dramas on Netflix, Best Action Movies on Netflix, Best Sci-Fi Movies on Netflix and Best Horror Movies on Netflix lists—but the key element is keeping an audience member on the edge of their seat.

So, we’ve officially defined a thriller as anything that Netflix calls a thriller (excepting a few wildly mislabeled films), and any complaints or concerns can be directed to one of Netflix’s insufferable first-person Twitter accounts.

Here are the 50 best Thrillers on Netflix right now:

the babysitter poster (Custom).jpg 50. The Babysitter
Year: 2017
Director: McG
The Babysitter is a little guileless in its overt desire to be lovingly described as an ‘80s slasher homage, but simultaneously effective enough to earn a good measure of that approval it craves. With twists of Fright Night and Night of the Demons, it’s at its best not when trying to slavishly recreate a past decade but when letting its hyper-charismatic teenage characters run wild. Stylish, gory and profane to a fault, The Babysitter features a handful of bang-up performances by Judah Lewis as a late-blooming 12-year-old, Robbie Amell as a nigh-invincible football jock and Samara Weaving as the title character, the girl of Lewis’ dreams—right up until she tries to sacrifice him to the devil. Fast-moving (only 85 minutes!) and frequently hilarious, it’s probably the best unit of popcorn horror entertainment that Netflix has managed to put out so far. The Babysitter’s character chemistry actually justifies a second go-round, which I’d be happy to watch. —Jim Vorel

lavender.jpg 49. Lavender
Year: 2017
Director: Ed Gass-Donnelly
Lavender’s building blocks are so well worn—mysterious discoveries, creaky houses, darting specters—they might well be invisible were it not for another of its defining features: the efficiency and assuredness with which the whole affair is presented. The movie is streamlined to the point that you have to admire its dedication to offering, without so much as a wink, a ghost story about the gradual opening of a locked memory and the catharsis that awaits its heroine. The film opens with a brief prologue in 1985 on an expansive rural property and the immediate aftermath of a murder scene in a family home. Shift to 25 years later, and we see Jane (Abbie Cornish) toting her school-age daughter Alice (Lola Flanery) on long drives through the countryside so she can take photographs of empty houses, most of them set back quite a way from the road. Jane has a romantic’s fascination with the houses, seeing them as epitaphs to the lives that once inhabited them. There’s a restlessness to Jane, and she’s distracted by her own preoccupation with houses, becoming enthralled with one in particular. Jane soon becomes caught up in a mystery surrounding these small white boxes wrapped in red ribbon. For a while it’s unclear whether their contents are intended as clues, or as methods of torment for her. Compounding Jane’s confusion are a car accident, a long-lost relative, and a hospital psychiatrist (Justin Long) with dubious motives. While it succumbs to a lot of clichés that blunt its impact, Lavender shows that there are interesting ways to apply genre elements beyond the bump and chills, and in the service of story about memory, trauma, and resolution. —Anthony Salveggi

velvet buzzsaw poster (Custom).jpg 48. Velvet Buzzsaw
Year: 2018
Director: Dan Gilroy
With 2014’s chilling Nightcrawler, writer/director Dan Gilroy and stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo created a potent critique of the media’s “if it bleeds, it leads” mentality. Four years later, the same team is back with Velvet Buzzsaw in order to ostensibly skewer the shallowness and materialism of art profiteering, told through a gaudy blend of pretentious B-horror and on-the-nose satire. Nightcrawler’s solidly structured and thematically laser-focused existence makes Velvet Buzzsaw that much of a baffling experience, since what we get from Gilroy here is the exact opposite: A muddled, morally confused and, worst of all, woefully predictable genre rethread with a laughably transparent art house veneer. Hidden underneath Gyllenhaal and Russo’s scenery-chewing cartoon versions of highfalutin art expert types, the premise of a mysterious collection of apparently haunted paintings killing all those who try to profit from it presents not much more than a typical slasher flick. Whenever a character is left alone every 20 minutes or so, you can bet they’ll be toast or mince meat—in one case literally—by the time the scene’s over. One can expect such a flimsy narrative used solely to prop up a series of exuberantly gory set-pieces from a medium-grade giallo auteur of the ’70s, but more cohesive work is expected from the likes of Gilroy and his powerful cast. If you’re a horror fan who’s in it only for the blood, go for it. Other buyers, beware. —Oktay Ege Kozak

the perfection poster (Custom).jpg 47. The Perfection
Year: 2019
Director: Richard Shepard
What should horror movies be judged by? Airtight narrative logic, or imaginatively deranged imagery? Scores matter, scripts matter, but by the end of the movie what tends to matter most are the visuals, and Richard Shepard’s new movie, The Perfection, sears its visuals into the viewer’s mind like branding on livestock, right up to its final shot, one of the genre’s most indelible since horror became the taste of the day in the mid 2010s. It’s a twisted kind of miracle that anyone who watches The Perfection will never be the same, and a testament to horror’s power to bend minds and spur nightmares with a single picture. But the movie also reminds us that as much as pictures often come first, plotting usually should come a very close second. The film begins promisingly enough: After abandoning her career to care for her dying mother, cello prodigy Charlotte (Allison Williams) returns to the music world to reclaim her standing as the Bachoff Academy of Music’s star pupil, which means sabotaging the current title holder, Lizzie (Logan Browning). Charlotte reaches out to her old teachers, Anton (Steven Weber) and Paloma (Alaina Huffman), travels to Shanghai as Bachoff selects its latest student, and cozies up to Lizzie. They flatter each other. They flirt. They drink, go partying, then make passionate love in a hotel, filmed with cinematographer Vanja Cernul’s lurid gaze. Maybe Charlotte bears Lizzie no grudge. Maybe they really do admire each other to romantic heights. And then they travel to rural China, where Lizzie grows increasingly sick, starts puking up bugs, discovers yet more bugs dithering about under the skin on her arm, and, when offered a butcher’s cleaver by Charlotte, chops off her hand. This is the climax to The Perfection’s first half hour, ruined by a single viewing of the trailer. It’s also where Shepard springs the first of several fakeouts, stealing a page from Michael Haneke’s playbook. At its best, The Perfection is an homage to 1970s horror movies and 1980s thrillers, a glorious, multi-hewed mind screw. When Shepard sticks to this aesthetic, the movie soars on grotesque wings. When he commits the cardinal sin of demystifying the mysterious, it’s a major drag. A little ambiguity goes a long, long way in horror. —Andy Crump

equilibrium.jpg 46. Equilibrium
Year: 2002
Director: Kurt Wimmer
In Equilibrium, Taye Diggs plays a future fascist law enforcement officer named Brandt, and near the climax of the film, Brandt gets his face cut off. That’s his whole face, impeccably separated from his head, hair- to jawline. This follows a kind of lightning-quick, future samurai sword fight in which Christian Bale’s character, the heroically named John Preston, has singlehandedly massacred his way, gun in one hand and sword in the other, through one law enforcement officer after another, determined to wrench humanity from the binds of a totalitarian state that has outlawed—you guessed it—feelings. Much like Taye Diggs’ face, Equilibrium is quite pretty in its action, very symmetrical. But also like his face, the fact that I just gave away a meaty part of the climax should be easily disconnected from whether or not you should still watch Equilibrium. You should: it’s all as simultaneously bonkers and well-mannered as the moment in which Taye Diggs’ face slides off the front of his head like salami from a meat slicer. —Dom Sinacola

in-order-disappearance.jpg 45. In Order of Disappearance
Year: 2014
Director: Hans Petter Moland
Like Fargo—a film which shares in the stark whiteness of a snow-bleached landscape, eking out a particular corner of humanity’s own little tabula rasaIn Order of Disappearance is a certifiable “black” comedy. What sets it apart from the American tale (other than Moland’s allegiance to Tarantino as much as to the Coens) is that this grim, brisk thriller finds at its core a darkness as opaque as the gravity-slurping middle of a black hole. That black hole is obviously death—the center around which the film revolves, each murder one more push of centripetal force, the whole plot spiraling into a nihilistic conclusion. While Disappearance is overt about its themes—revenge, responsibility, fatherhood, masculinity—it rarely reserves breath for any form of judgment, instead just sort of watching as an upstanding Norwegian citizen (the always great Stellan Skarsgård) works his bloody way up the food chain to figure out who’s behind his son’s death. Sleazebags with stupid ponytails abound, and everyone pretty much gets what’s coming to him, whether one’s sins are still fresh or long ago buried beneath the snow. And then there’s a final shot (fueled by a demise that also echoes Fargo’s climax) which is so unbelievably goofy it may throw into question the entire film you just watched. In a good way…I guess. —Dom Sinacola

hush poster (Custom).jpg 44. Hush
Year: 2016
Director: Mike Flanagan
Mike Flanagan’s Oculus was a pleasantly ambitious surprise for horror fans when it landed a wide distribution release in 2013, so looking at his new Netflix-exclusive Hush, one sort of wonders if he’s taking a step back by directing a fairly classical home invasion thriller with limited cast and locations. There are, however, just enough twists on this especially trope-laden subgenre, starting with our heroine, who is deaf. That one disability, coupled with her remote residence in the woods, makes for a uniquely frightening handicap in repelling the masked intruder who comes calling. Unavoidably evoking The Strangers and Funny Games in particular, Hush nevertheless carves out its own spot in the niche. Our lead is an unusually intelligent, resourceful (but realistic) protagonist for this sort of setting, and her reactions to each new horror ring with truth. The stakes and tension rise in a palpable, organic way that has no need to resort to further gimmickry or a third act twist. It’s simply a battle for survival, featuring a character who is impressively well developed, considering that she never “speaks” a word. —Jim Vorel

mudbound.jpg 43. Mudbound
Year: 2017
Director: Dee Rees
Director Dee Rees uses the uneasy partnership between a white family and a black family in postwar Mississippi as a bruising metaphor for modern-day America. In Mudbound, Jason Clarke is the patriarch of a recently relocated Tennessee clan that must work together with the Jacksons (led by Mary J. Blige) to cultivate farmland, but the poisonous economic, racial and social atmosphere surrounding them constantly threatens the crops they’re trying to sow. This somber, despairing film sees the world plainly: War veterans aren’t given the care they need when they return, bigotry runs rampant, and good people are outnumbered by the small-minded. And the performances are stellar—especially Garrett Hedlund, as a bomber pilot who’s a shell of himself now that he’s home, and Jason Mitchell as a black soldier who finds that America still won’t accept him, even though he fought valiantly for his country. —Tim Grierson

thumper-movie-poster.jpg 42. Thumper
Year: 2017
Director: Jordan Ross
Breaking Bad had Badger. Thumper has Beaver. Hard drugs make lovable saps out of all its low-level dealers named after furry critters—this innocuousness isn’t a mistake. To put it broadly, as of late, crime entertainment has been slowly dismantling the romanticized idea of cooks, kingpins and high-level dealers, instead emphasizing the unrewarding workaday nature of its entry-level employees. These dealers, recruited out of high school or younger, become indentured servants to their drug, their social circle or both: It’s the only way out of their circumstances and it’s certainly the only way to keep getting a fix. Thumper, a film about such a community, withholds its primary plot device until it visually explains its environment, its town and its drugs. The hard-nosed drama begins by building the lives it touches before introducing the idea that we’re seeing such drama from inside of a performance. Beaver (Daniel Webber), a high schooler roped into the dealing scene, isn’t Thumper’s main character at all; rather, the main character is the girl Beaver invites to get drunk at an abandoned factory, a date which tells you more about the working class town than its unemployment percentage. She’s Kat Carter (Eliza Taylor)—well, not really. She’s actually an undercover Narc, 21 Jump Street-ing in the most dangerous circles to try to find out the origin of the community’s disproportionate amount of overdose deaths. Over the course of her investigation into Beaver’s ring, led by a war veteran cook played by Pablo Schreiber in one of the most effortlessly frightening performances ever to make me still feel sorry for the character, facades keep building up and breaking down. As the investigation draws closer and closer to capturing the cook, director/writer Jordan Ross knows exactly how to crank up the pressure, turning mundane conversations into nightmares of hate. Ross allows us the specificity and space to both understand his films’ stakes and then draw hypothetical conclusions. Because of that, Thumper is a heart-in-throat drama wherein you know what will happen, and it’s all the more dreadful for it. Inevitability grows like the shadow of the setting sun. Its climax covers us with darkness. —Jacob Oller

nymphomaniac-vol-1.jpg 41. Nymphomaniac: Volume I
Year: 2014
Director: Lars von Trier 
“Which way do you think you’ll get the most out of my story—believing me or not believing me?” asks the central character in writer-director Lars von Trier’s new film. She’s an emotionally broken, physically beaten sex addict recounting her life less ordinary to an ascetic bachelor with a passion for fly-fishing, but the words might as well be from the filmmaker himself. In Nymphomaniac: Volume I, he’s inviting viewers to come along on a lurid trip, to submit to a survey of longing (emotional as much as sexual) threaded with intellectual riffs big and small, and allusions to dozens of other works. The movie’s sex scenes are indeed the fulcrum on which the movie turns. But the film’s graphic sequences are only shocking, really, insofar as how well they abut and serve the more discrete stories the narrator tells. —Brent Simon

rover-movie-poster.jpg 40. The Rover
Year: 2014
Director: David Michôd
In director David Michôd’s speculative fiction drama, which strips all artifice from the post-apocalyptic genre to the point of neo-realism, we’re ten years past a global economic collapse. The world isn’t Mad Max quite yet, but it’s hurtling there at great speed. Guy Pierce is Eric, a quiet and broken man who’s hell-bent on retrieving his car from a gang of murderous thieves. He kidnaps one of the thieves’ (Scoot McNairy) brother, the mentally challenged Rey (Pattinson), as leverage. Both men cling desperately to their last connection to humanity in a world devoid of it. For Eric, it’s whatever he has left in his car. For Rey, it’s the belief that his brother loves him, and will eventually save him. As Rey gradually figures out how alone and unprotected he really is, volatile anger and confusion begins to bubble up to the surface. At first sight, it looks like Pattinson’s merely engaging in Billy Bob Thornton/Sling Blade cosplay, but there’s unique empathy and vulnerability in the performance, more than enough to make Pattinson’s casting as Batman more believable than one might think. —Oktay Ege Kozak

wind-river.jpg 39. Wind River
Year: 2017
Director: Taylor Sheridan
2017’s Wind River marked the directorial debut of screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (Sicario, Hell or High Water) and it stars Jeremy Renner as Cory Lambert—a veteran tracker for the Fish and Wildlife Service. After discovering the dead body of a young Native American woman, he joins Elizabeth Olsen’s jane Banner, an FBI Agent, on a quest for answers and, for Lambert, personal redemption for something that happened in his past. What follows is nearly two hours of pure white-knuckle tension as the duo tries to solve the murder. It is a sparse, desolate thriller—a snow-covered neo-western—where violent acts bring about violent repercussions. In a land where hope hasn’t existed for a while, or maybe it was never there to begin with, heinous acts go unpunished. Lambert and Banner want to fix that, trying to bring justice and redemption to the condemned few on the Wind River Indian Reservation. The film flirts with the all too real problems of life on Native American reservations, the blind-eye America turned to their once-perpetrated genocide and the real fact that the rape of young Native American women is a crime that rarely sees the perpetrator convicted. Wind River’s thematic resonance and tonal texture is nearly post-apocalyptic in its spatial desperation and tangible sorrow. It is a quiet, methodically paced thriller where a metaphorical kettle is at a constant near boil until it reaches a fever-pitch punctuated by extreme violence, and one of the tensest and most nerve-wracking stand-offs in cinematic history. Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’s somber score interrupt the film’s haunting silence with equally haunting melody. Sheridan proves himself a capable director who frames most of the film in striking wide shots that capture the sheer nothingness of the landscape, and when lead starts flying, he keeps the camera steady—all of the action remains in frame, adding to the sense of desperation, sloppiness and overall pointlessness that each outburst of violence seems to harbor. As a whole, it may fall victim to an all-too-common “white savior complex,” but it’s a thriller that feels as necessary as it is riveting. —Cole Henry

layer-cake-movie-poster.jpg 38. Layer Cake
Year: 2004
Director: Matthew Vaughn
“Everyone likes to walk through a door marked ‘private.’” So narrates Daniel Craig’s unnamed criminal protagonist (designated “XXXX” by IMDb) at the start of the dense and propulsive Layer Cake, the confident debut that launched Matthew Vaughn’s career. Since then, the director has gone on to helm the screen adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, the ultraviolent superhero spoof Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class and the two Kingsman movies. In other words, Vaughn is clearly drawn to the quixotic and the cartoonish, a tendency that Layer Cake doesn’t evince—not at first, anyway. The film’s lineage most obviously incorporates gritty gangland pictures like Goodfellas, whose interest in pulling back the curtain on criminal operations is shared by Layer Cake from its very first scene. There, a montage takes us through the supply chain of the mobsters for whom XXXX works as a middleman; his superiors include big brass Jimmy (Kenneth Cranham) and a couple lower-level associates, Morty (George Harris) and Gene (Colm Meaney). Craig, in a casual voiceover accompanied by music that wouldn’t feel out of place in a hotel lobby, gives us the rundown via the well-rehearsed, vaguely self-satisfied spiel of a man who knows the ropes and is aware of it. In mood, this introductory segment pulls as much from Soderbergh as it does Scorsese, revealing that, for XXXX and the movie he holds together, the modus operandi is calm, cool and collected. On paper, the film sounds like it’s about gangsters, but it’s really about a panicked babysitter trying to keep a mob of children in line. The catch: These are tough-as-nails man-babies who would pump you full of lead at the drop of a hat. In other words, the film’s a riotous comedy about one man’s life turning into a nightmare, with the greatest punchlines being Craig’s expressions of incredulity—everything from exasperated shouting to blank staring—when his management efforts backfire. In the end, Layer Cake is all about delivery—of drugs into the hands of eager buyers, but also, on the part of XXXX, of an attitude of cool that will both reassure his clients of his reliability and, reaching beyond the proverbial fourth wall, invite viewers into an elite, rarefied position from which they can look down on some shenanigans. Through his candid, confiding narration, XXXX waves us into the milieu of organized crime—while remaining above it all. No wonder Craig ended up being tapped for the new Bond. —Jonah Jeng

i-dont-feel.jpg 37. I don’t feel at home in this world anymore.
Year: 2017
Director: Macon Blair
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

creep-2-movie-poster.jpg 36. Creep 2
Year: 2017
Director: Patrick Brice
Creep was not a movie begging for a sequel. About one of cinema’s more unique serial killers—a man who seemingly needs to form close personal bonds with his quarry before dispatching them as testaments to his “art”—the 2014 original was self-sufficient enough. But Creep 2 is that rare follow-up wherein the goal seems to be not “let’s do it again,” but “let’s go deeper”—and by deeper, we mean much deeper, as this film plumbs the psyche of the central psychopath (who now goes by) Aaron (Mark Duplass) in ways both wholly unexpected and shockingly sincere, as we witness (and somehow sympathize with) a killer who has lost his passion for murder, and thus his zest for life. In truth, the film almost forgoes the idea of being a “horror movie,” remaining one only because we know of the atrocities Aaron has committed in the past, meanwhile becoming much more of an interpersonal drama about two people exploring the boundaries of trust and vulnerability. Desiree Akhavan is stunning as Sara, the film’s only other principal lead, creating a character who is able to connect in a humanistic way with Aaron unlike anything a fan of the first film might think possible. Two performers bare it all, both literally and figuratively: Creep 2 is one of the most surprising, emotionally resonant horror films in recent memory. —Jim Vorel

killing-ground.jpg 35. Killing Ground
Year: 2016
Director: Damien Power
The term “slow burn” is most often applied to movies where nothing of note happens for about the first hour, and everything happens in the last ten to twenty minutes. But Damien Power holds our attention throughout Killing Ground. It’s build-up is essential to the pay-off. Really, this isn’t a slow burn at all: It’s a really well-made genre movie, the product of a smart, obviously skilled filmmaker with a good sense of economy. Power treats every beat in the narrative as an opportunity for disquieting his viewers, using a collection of techniques to progressively raise the hairs on our arms, but more importantly he maintains an enduring harmony across multiple plot threads and perspectives without losing either himself or us. The film begins with our designated protagonists, married couple Ian (Ian Meadows) and Sam (Harriet Dyer), and slowly, precisely expands to include two other involved parties. They’re on a camping trip, heading for a waterfall on New Year’s to celebrate, take a load off and maybe even get engaged. As soon as they arrive at their destination, they notice that someone else has beaten them there, setting up their own campsite at the same spot Ian and Sam had in mind.Killing Ground’s grand artistic statement isn’t made until its final image, so just enjoy the film as an exemplary exercise in tension as you wait for Power to suck out your soul. Power hasn’t re-invented the Australian outback thriller, but he has put his personal stamp on it, and in so doing distinguished his works from similar fare, a’la Wolf Creek and Wake in Fright. Killing Ground doesn’t burn slowly. It just burns. —Andy Crump

creep poster (Custom).jpg 34. Creep
Year: 2014
Director: Patrick Brice
Trust is a valuable commodity online. Though the connective power of the Internet has made our world smaller, believing in what you can’t see is risky business. In Creep, Patrick Brice makes a mercurial study of these fears through the veneer of found footage. As genre niches go, the found footage conceit wore out its welcome in a deluge of Paranormal Activity imitators over the span of the past eight years. In Brice’s hands, the technique works: Unlike its low-fi kin, Creep is made with attention to detail and a dedicated consideration of motive. There’s a reason the camera stays on from scene to scene. If the web invites harm, Brice’s lens almost acts like a shield. Nothing bad can happen while we’re rolling, at least until it does. Even a casual horror fan knows the destination on Creep’s narrative itinerary, but Brice has a knack for making us second-guess ourselves at almost every juncture. The film stars Brice as Aaron and his comrade, mumblecore guru supreme Mark Duplass, as Josef. Aaron is down on his luck and looking for fast, easy cash. Josef is a vibrating ball of pent-up, charismatic energy. He’s also slowly dying, the victim of an aggressive, untreatable brain tumor. Hence Aaron, whom Josef has hired as his personal videographer. Josef wants to record a single day in his life for his unborn son, whom he may never get to meet. So the two men strike out on an adventure through hill and dale, which sounds fine and dandy except that Josef is weird. Really weird, in fact, and not the quirky, precious kind of weird that indie audiences find endlessly endearing. And Brice has a deft hand at fostering sustained terror. He’s equally as good at coaxing a chuckle out of us at the right moment to subvert our expectations. Creep is as intensely frightening as it is humorous, but Brice doesn’t use gags to let the air out of the room. Rather, he treats them as bait, and anticipation as a red herring, executing his many misdirections brilliantly. Even when the film ticks down to its final minutes, we can’t help but hope for a happy ending. —Andy Crump

a-most-violent-year.jpg 33. A Most Violent Year
Year: 2014
Director: J.C. Chandor
A Most Violent Year marks writer/director J.C. Chandor’s third feature film in four years. Aside from demonstrating Chandor’s remarkably prolific nature, the film also further establishes the New Jersey-bred filmmaker as one of the most versatile on the market. Indeed, A Most Violent Year may be his most conventional outing to date, but that’s only because his debut film (Margin Call) centered on the complex machinations of the recent financial crash while his follow-up (All is Lost) was basically a one-man show with little to no dialogue. This time around, Chandor turns his eye to the corrupt, violence-filled New York City of the early ’80s. The story centers on Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac), an immigrant-turned-aspiring-heating-oil-magnate whose attempts at expanding his business land him in hot water with the government, the banks and the local Mafia. As the central character, Isaac is nothing short of extraordinary, channeling the kind of subtle, yet evocative characters perfected by Al Pacino and Robert De Niro in their ’70s heydays. Equally great is the supporting cast, which boasts Jessica Chastain, David Oyelowo and an unrecognizable Albert Brooks. While the film’s deliberate pacing and understated nature may belie its suspense, those who lean into their patience will be rewarded with a beautifully crafted, if chilling portrayal of how the pursuit of the American Dream can slowly transform into a nefarious journey into the heart of darkness. —Mark Rozeman

brick.jpg 32. Brick
Year: 2005
Director: Rian Johnson
High-school sleuths may be popular genre protagonists on TV—Veronica Mars and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, to name a few, presaged the rise of properties like Riverdale and Pretty Little Liars, for example. Social cliques and hormonal tensions coupled with deceptively blasé suburban backdrops tend to refresh gumshoe maneuvers, even as murderous intrigue adds zap to all the Clearasil melodrama. But Brick, director Rian Johnson’s crackling debut, shook up our neo-noir expectations all while indulging our familiarity with it and justifying his exercise’s existence as so much more than that. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Brendan, the smart, loner kid whose broken heart leads him to the local teenage underworld when his ex-girlfriend (Lost’s Emilie de Ravin) goes missing. The extremely mannered dialogue evokes the clipped lingo of Philip Marlowe, cross-wired with David Mamet: Southern California kids who look too affluent for their age drop slang like “duck soup” (easy pickings) and “bulls” (cops) as if they were studying James Ellroy in English class. Like those punches that lunge across the screen and send Brendan reeling toward his next clue, Brick is a left-field surprise, and an assured first time for a director who’d go on to top the world of genre filmmaking. —Steve Dollar

geralds game list poster (Custom).jpg 31. Gerald’s Game
Year: 2017
Director: Mike Flanagan
Director Mike Flanagan’s Gerald’s Game trims fat, condenses and slims, stripping away some of the odder quirks of Stephen King’s novel to get at the heart of themes underneath. The result is a tense, effective thriller that goes out of its way to highlight two strong actors in an unfettered celebration of their craft. This is nothing new for Flanagan, whose recent output in the horror genre has been commendable. It’s hard to overlook some of the recurring themes in his work, beginning with 2011’s Absentia and all the way through the wildly imaginative Oculus, Hush and Ouija: Origin of Evil. Every one of these films centers around a strong-willed female lead, as does Gerald’s Game. Is this coincidence? Or is the director drawn to stories that reflect the struggle of women to claim independence in their lives by shedding old scars or ghosts, be they literal or figurative? Either way, it made Flanagan an obvious fit for Gerald’s Game, an unassuming, overachieving little thriller that is blessed by two performers capable of handling the lion’s share of the dramatic challenges it presents. —Jim Vorel

Beasts-of-No-Nation-Poster-1.jpg 30. Beasts of No Nation
Year: 2015
Director: Cary Fukunaga
Netflix’s debut venture into filmmaking tackles the dark reality of child soldiers. Beasts of No Nation stars Idris Elba as a nameless Commandant recruiting children for war in an unnamed country in Africa. A civil war has left many children without a family, and the Commandant takes full advantage of the young boys’ vulnerabilities, particularly one boy called Agu (Abraham Attah). By the end, the children form a full-fledged army under the Commandant, mercilessly killing and conquering as a group. Cary Fukunaga (True Detective) directs. —Alice Barsky

cam-movie-poster.jpg 29. Cam
Year: 2018
Director: Daniel Goldhaber
As so many films in 2018 have shown us, the identities we create online—that we digitally design, foster and mature, often to the detriment of whatever we have going on IRL—will inevitably surpass us. The horror of Daniel Goldhaber’s Cam, based on the Isa Mazzei’s script (in turn, based on her real experiences as a sex worker), is in this loss: that no one is ever truly in control of these fabricated identities; that the more real they become, the less they belong to the person most affected. Welcome Alice (Madeline Brewer), an ambitious camgirl who compensates for the exhausting rigor of online popularity (and, therefore, economic viability) with gruesome stunts and a rigorous set of principles dictating what she will, and won’t, do in her capacity as female fantasy. She’s successful, tossing funds to her mom (Melora Walters) and brother (Devin Druid) without being totally honest about her job, but she could be more successful, trying whatever she can (within reason) to scale the ranking system enforced by the site she uses to broadcast her shows. With dexterous ease, Mazzei’s script both introduces the exigencies of camgirl life while never stooping to judge Alice’s choice of employment, contextualizing an inevitable revelation to her family not as one of embarrassment, but as an impenetrable morass of shame through which every sex worker must struggle to be taken seriously. So much so that when someone who looks exactly like Alice—who operates under her screen name but is willing to do the things Alice once refused—gains leaps and bounds in the camgirl charts, Goldhaber and Mazzei derive less tension from the explanation and discovery of what’s really going on rather than the harsh truth of just how vulnerable Alice is—and we all are—to the cold, indifferent violence of this online world we’ve built for ourselves. —Dom Sinacola

tucker and dale vs evil poster.jpg 28. Tucker & Dale vs. Evil
Year: 2010
Director: Eli Craig
Let’s face it, hillbillies and their ilk have been getting the short end of the pitchfork in movies since the strains of banjo music faded in 1972’s Deliverance. And whether due to radiation (The Hills Have Eyes) or just good old determined inbreeding (Wrong Turn and so, so many films you’re better off not knowing about), the yokel-prone in film have really enjoyed slaughtering innocent families on vacation, travelers deficient in basic map usage skills, and, best of all, sexually active college students just looking for a good time. But fear not, members of Hillbillies for Inclusion, Consideration & Kindness in Screenplays (HICKS)—writer/director Eli Craig has your hairy, unloofahed back. His film, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, answers the simple question: What if those hillbillies are just socially awkward fellows sprucing up a vacation home and the young college kids in question are just prone to repeatedly jumping to incorrect, often fatal, conclusions? Think Final Destination meets the Darwin Awards. —Michael Burgin

everybody-knows.jpg 27. Everybody Knows
Year: 2018
Director: Asghar Farhadi
The mixture of plot twists and moral shading, the focus on flawed characters and irresolvable pasts: Fans of writer-director Asghar Farhadi have come to cherish these trademark elements in his films. Everybody Knows is the Iranian filmmaker’s first work in Spanish, starring Penelope Cruz as Laura, a wife and mother who returns to the village where she grew up after years of living in Argentina with her husband, Alejandro (Ricardo Darin). The reason for the reunion is her sister’s wedding, which brings joy but also anxiety for Laura. While she’s happy to see her family after being gone for so long, there’s an overriding tension: Why has she been so absent? Also making things complicated is that this is the first time in a decade that she’s seen Paco (Javier Bardem), who owns a vineyard and was once Laura’s lover. Though that’s seemingly all in the past since he’s now happily married to Bea (Barbara Lennie). Of course, anyone who’s seen a Farhadi film—including A Separation, The Past and The Salesman—knows that old lovers and complicated families don’t go quietly. Those ingredients are the basic building blocks of Farhadi’s dramas, and once Everybody Knows gets rolling, we raise our antennae, preparing for the shockwaves to come. Amidst a superb cast, Bardem and Cruz are both strong playing characters who haven’t let go of the past—a familiar affliction in Farhadi’s films. Which is maybe why Lennie is Everybody Knows’ true knockout. Sexy and smart, Bea is a vital life force who’s captured Paco’s heart. But once Laura returns—and Irene goes missing—she starts to understand that there are whole lifetimes of her husband’s existence that she’s never fully appreciated. Her tragedy may be that, suddenly, it could be too late to do anything about it, and Lennie displays the flurry of anger, sadness and panic that accompany such a profound test of her marriage. As Farhadi skillfully moves his protagonists around the chessboard, only Lennie feels fully untethered, her wild card of a character refusing to be reined in by her husband—or even Farhadi’s narrative maneuvering. —Tim Grierson

under-shadow-movie-poster.jpg 26. Under the Shadow
Year: 2016
Director: Babak Anvari
For most of the film, Babak Anvari is crafting a stifling period drama, a horror movie of a different sort that tangibly conveys the claustrophobia of Iran during its tumultuous post-revolution period. Anvari, himself of a family that eventually fled the Ayatollah’s rule, has made Under the Shadow as statement of rebellion and tribute to his own mother. It’s a distinctly feminist film: Shideh (Narges Rashidi) is cast as the tough heroine fighting back against greater hostile forces—a horror movie archetype that takes on even more potency in this setting. Seeing Shideh defy the Khomeini regime by watching a Jane Fonda workout video, banned by the state, is almost as stirring as seeing her overcome her personal demons by protecting her child from a more literal one. —Brogan Morris

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