The 40 Best Romantic Movies on Netflix

Movies Lists Netflix
Share Tweet Submit Pin
The 40 Best Romantic Movies on Netflix

Ahhh…romance. There are few things more hard-wired in all of us than the desire to find a soulmate, and few more common motivating principles in movies. We’ve dug through all 554 of the romantic movies on Netflix to find the best, including Netflix originals like Always Be My Maybe and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. From historical love stories to romantic comedies to one true-life romantic documentary, here are the 40 best romantic movies on Netflix:

Here are the 40 best romantic movies streaming on Netflix:

smart-people.jpg 40. Smart People
Year: 2008
Director: Noam Murro
If movie genres were chemicals, Smart People would have some serious combustion potential. Director Noam Murro mixes a volatile combination of dysfunctional family melodrama with comedic romance in an economic package that avoids fully committing to either genre. The film maintains a perpetually understated tone of introverted frustration as it follows the Wetherhold family, a clan of ingenious overachievers who understand everything except themselves and each other. If this sounds familiar, then you’ve probably spent time with the works of Noah Baumbach and Wes Anderson. Murro and screenwriter Poirier attempt to innovate on their predecessors’ output by cramming the entire production into a nifty date-movie format, festooned with Sarah Jessica Parker. The narrative features Dennis Quaid as a killjoy English professor who condescends his way through life at the expense of his family’s happiness. After experiencing a stroke, the derisive educator is forced to confront his loneliness through interacting with his emotionally distraught family and his comely new doctor (Parker). Despite its exhausted convention in modern cinema, the Wetherholds’ nuclear-family meltdown grounds the characters it so modestly illustrates. Poirier pens the dialogue with such subdued restraint and wit that the family’s nuances are much more tangible than any theatrical delivery could provide. Thomas Hayden Church’s “giant toddler” of an adopted brother jibes Quaid on all of the sexual innuendo and caustic asides expected from the role, but also balances the frat boy antics with an unexpected moral compass. Ellen Page plays the bizarro version of Juno as an overambitious high-school Republican who still manages to slice flesh with snarky one liners. Colorful and interesting, the character arcs don’t bend in extreme angles over drastic distances. This minimalist approach serves as the film’s most valuable asset and differentiating factor. —Sean Edgar


bachelorette.jpg 39. Bachelorette
Year: 2014
Director: Leslye Headland
Bachelorette may not be a sequel to Bridesmaids, but the comparison is inevitable and deserved: Both center around jealous maids of honor whose friendships with the bride are tested in the run-up to the big day. Both feature raunchy humor directed at female audiences. Both start with the letter “B.” But whereas the pedigree of Paul Feig’s double-Oscar nominee lies in television sketch comedy and sitcoms, Bachelorette originated on the stage, and writer-director Leslye Headland (Russian Doll) mines material as portentous as the Seven Deadly Sins. The result is a sister film that’s less fun but more poignant in its examination of the modern-woman condition. Rebel Wilson, who also appeared in Bridesmaids as Kristen Wiig’s obnoxious roommate, stars as the bride, Becky, whose announcement of her impending nuptials sends frenemy Regan (Kirsten Dunst, looking scarily skinny and pale) into a tizzy. Regan “did everything right”—went to college, exercised, ate right, works with cancer kids, dates a med student—so she expected to be the first of her high-school “B-faces” to get married. Still, she puts her personal disappointment aside and turns her Type A attention to her maid-of-honor duties, striking fear into the hearts of wedding planners and lesser bridesmaids (Lizzy Caplan, Isla Fisher) alike. —Annlee Ellingson


jodhaa-akbar.jpg 38. Jodhaa Akbar
Year: 2008
Director: Ashutosh Gowariker
Bollywood loves forbidden unions, be it religious, cultural, class or otherwise. An epic period drama based on a regal (and controversial) Hindu-Muslim union, Akbar (Hrithik Roshan), a Mughal king, is betrothed to Jodhaa (Aishwarya Rai), a Rajput princess, as an alliance between the two regions. But as their marriage becomes real, so does their love—despite external forces trying to break them apart. Jodhaa Akbar features opulent visuals, rich costume design and an original soundtrack borrowing its sound from Qawwali spiritual style. It’s a portrait of a loving relationship in a trying, war-stricken time, and paints a picture of 16th century India that can scratch any historical itch. —Radhika Menon


laggies.jpg 37. Laggies
Year: 2014
Director: Lynn Shelton
Laggies leans into coming-of-age and romantic dramedy genre tropes, but fiddles around with them in a pleasing manner. The film centers on Meg (Keira Knightley), a college graduate wasting her higher education. Reeling from the one-two punch of a marriage proposal by her longtime boyfriend Anthony (Mark Webber) that she’s still not sure she’s ready for and also seeing her father, Ed (Jeff Garlin), making out with a random woman at the wedding of her friend, Allison (Ellie Kemper), Meg wanders off into the night. She’s approached by 16-year-old Annika (Chloe Grace Moretz), who’s looking to have Meg buy some beer for her and her friends. Meg acquiesces, and then bonds with Annika and her pals over skateboarding. Shelton has the ability to coax extraordinarily relaxed, naturalistic performances out of her actors and actresses, and that’s where Laggies really succeeds. It gives a smart nudge to the oddness of its conceit, and Knightley and Sam Rockwell, especially, rise to the occasion to help sell the material. Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie offers up an evocative score. And with the assistance of cinematographer Benjamin Kalsulke and production designer John Lavin, Shelton crafts a film that feels intimate and to-scale. —Brent Simon


tramps.jpg 36. Tramps
Year: 2017
Director: Adam Leon
For a guy who trades in intimate, small-scale narratives, Adam Leon sure does love working with distance. Wide shots pepper his films, his camera an eye in the heavens tracking the movements of his protagonists through busy open spaces. He can hover over an active street corner teeming with hubbub and still keep us focused on a pair of arguing teens. You don’t pull off that kind of stunt without caring, or without making your viewers care, and so we get down to what makes Leon special as a storyteller: He’s caring. He’s compassionate. Hell, he’s downright generous, a director who makes movies as gifts to his admirers and who gives gift after gift to his principals in the form of lucky breaks. Maybe, if you’re so inclined, you’d call that contrivance. Maybe you’d accuse Leon of making easy movies, of wrapping up his work with tidy little bows, instead of challenging himself, his leads, his audience. But the Netflix-backed Tramps is all about the tug between kindness and unkindness: Leon doesn’t pile ignominies on his characters more than he must because the world he constructs around them does that well enough on its own. Like his previous film, Gimme the Loot, Tramps is a love story-cum-fairytale set in a New York City summer about people living in the margins of society. The most profound similarity is its dual-thread approach to plotting, introducing Danny (Callum Turner) first, Ellie (Grace Van Patten) second, and setting them on a collision course with each other third. They’re both involved in the same small-time crime scheme, involving the swapping of a suitcase. Tramps is a minor effort loaded with small pleasures, but tallied together, those small pleasures add up to one great movie. —Andy Crump


about-time-210.jpg 35. About Time
Year: 2013
Director: Richard Curtis
The enormous success of 1994’s Four Weddings and a Funeral, both the highest-grossing British film in history at the time of its release, as well as a $245 million worldwide box office smash, made a star of its screenwriter, Richard Curtis. The British-set romantic comedy About Time, starring Domhnall Gleeson and Rachel McAdams, is Curtis’ third film behind the camera, and it presents an amplified version of the triumphs and shortcomings most characteristic of his work. There is abundant charm, as well as a genuinely sweet-spirited view of the world; it is also dependent on plot turns that don’t withstand much scrutiny. On his 21st birthday, Tim (Gleeson) discovers from his father (Bill Nighy) that the men in his family have the ability to travel back in time. If they find a dark place, clench their fists and just focus their mind—poof, off they go! Naturally, Tim’s first instinct is to use his newfound power to try to snag a girlfriend. However, after a summer of futilely wooing the visiting friend of his older sister Kit Kat (Lydia Wilson), a still-single Tim heads off to London to pursue a career as a lawyer. There Tim meets Mary (McAdams), and falls head over heels in love. What’s that—she has a not-so-serious boyfriend met just before they crossed paths? Tim can rectify that situation, of course. Mostly, though, Tim and Mary’s love is sincere, born of shared interests and mutual regard. About Time is chiefly a comedic fantasy of wish fulfillment, an overstuffed casserole of cute riffs and beats structured around characters who unyieldingly exhibit ample portions of generosity and benevolence. If it rather awkwardly handles the delineation of its time travel rules, almost everything that is frustrating about the movie is also counterbalanced by moments of thoughtfulness and insightfulness. Instead of romance, per se, About Time is actually about family more broadly—and specifically about fathers and sons. The last 25 minutes tap into a rich emotional undercurrent related to the hard truths that so many men have difficulty discussing. Would that Curtis had the discipline to more artfully and substantively weave this material into his movie, or explore more honestly Tim and Mary’s relationship by having him share the burden of his secret. As is, About Time feels like a partially improvised fairytale. Brent Simon


gotta-give.jpg 34. Something’s Gotta Give
Year: 2003
Director: Nancy Meyers
When you’ve got two giants of cinema exploring love later in life, you can expect great chemistry. That’s what happens with Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton when the former breaks his streak of dating women in their twenties and falls for the mother of one of his girlfriends (Amanda Peet). With a soundtrack that spans genres and generations (Badly Drawn Boy, Jimmy Cliff, Paul Simon and Django Reinhardt, to name just a few), it’s a worthwhile take on the opposites-attract rom-com. —Josh Jackson


irreplaceable-you-poster.jpg 33. Irreplaceable You
Year: 2018
Director: Stephanie Laing
Netflix has gifted us with two Gugu Mbatha-Raw movies in the same month. One of them is a creative disaster and a sign of bad things to come for the streaming giant’s philosophy on original releases. One of them is Irreplaceable You. Upfront, Irreplaceable You is aggressively mushy and cutesy as hell, but Mbatha-Raw is an effortless charmer, and director Stephanie Laing is clearly a wizard because she found a way to scrub Michiel Huisman of his typical stubbly hipster douchiness. He’s still a brooding hottie, but an awkward nerd brooding hottie, and he’s good at playing the part. He and Mbatha-Raw match up well as Sam and Abbie, childhood sweethearts newly engaged and also staring down her terminal cancer diagnosis. In medical terms, she’s a goner. So she does what any type-A person would do in her position and interviews candidates for her replacement after she dies. She loves Sam so much she can’t stand the idea of him being alone. If you’re diabetic this synopsis probably has you reaching for an insulin dose, but for all of its obvious manipulations, watching Irreplaceable You is the equivalent of downing a heart-shaped box of chocolates. You might go into sugar shock and you’ll need to brush your teeth when it’s over, but you won’t regret the indulgence all the same. —Andy Crump


zack-and-miri.jpg 32. Zack and Miri Make a Porno
Year: 2008
Director: Kevin Smith 
Kevin Smith used the experiences of making his first film (Clerks) at night in the convenience store where he worked, and injected it into Zack and Miri Make a Porno, where cash-challenged roommates shoot their first adult film at night in the coffee shop where they work. Zack (Seth Rogen) and his partner/roommate/possible love-interest Miri (Elizabeth Banks) attend their high-school reunion where Miri tries to reacquaint herself with Bobby, her unrequited high-school crush hilariously played by Brendan Routh. When Miri learns Bobby’s “partner” is a gay porn star (Justin Long in a memorable performance) Miri is shattered but Zack is inspired, and the two begin to shoot their homemade porn film to help pay the rent. The audition scenes are priceless (use your imagination to learn Bubbles’ talent), but when Zack and Miri have to star in their own film they discover more than just sex. —Tim Basham


one-i-love.jpg 31. The One I Love
Year: 2014
Director: Charlie McDowell
The dark insecurities that reside inside even the happiest of marriages—issues of trust and fading passion—are given playful yet thoughtful treatment in The One I Love, a comedy-drama in which a couple learns more about each other than maybe they should. Strong performances from Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss are the highlight of a movie that may make married people nod in recognition but also shudder a little, too. Charlie McDowell (author of Dear Girls Above Me) and screenwriter Justin Lader have managed to upend a few romantic-drama clichés to find new ways to express how none of us really knows our spouse—or ourselves, for that matter. —Tim Grierson


set-it-up-movie-poster.jpg 30. Set It Up
Year: 2018
Director: Claire Scanlon
One can never have enough Zoey Deutch in their moviegoing diet. She’s a treasure, multi-layered, ever hilarious. Want her to throw snark at you? Want her to project confidence without haughtiness? Want her to pull off “awkward with a side of charming” without tipping the scale too much in one direction or the other? She can do all of that. If you have room for just one Deutch movie this month, go for The Year of Spectacular Men, but if your schedule’s open, fit in Claire Scanlon’s Set It Up, a delightful, zippy, corny-and-loving it rom-com about beleaguered office assistant Harper (Deutch) teaming up with as-beleaguered office assistant Charlie (Glen Powell) to get their horrible bosses (respectively, Lucy Liu and Taye Diggs) into bed with one another. Maybe they’re horrible only because they’re undersexed; maybe they’re just horrible. Set It Up isn’t exactly a hard read in that regard (or any, really), but it’s a hoot all the way through, and Scanlon’s smart to hang the film on Deutch and Powell’s chemistry. —Andy Crump


obvious-child.jpg 29. Obvious Child
Year: 2014
Director: Gillian Robespierre
Above all else, Obvious Child is a compassionate film. That might strike pro-life viewers as odd, even offensive, to say since this romantic comedy-drama features a main character getting ready to have an abortion. But in its modest, clear-eyed way, director and co-writer Gillian Robespierre’s feature debut goes beyond the issue’s moral implications to present a realistic, sensitive portrayal of how one young woman makes her decision to terminate her unwanted pregnancy. That the movie also manages to be funny and incredibly sweet is a small marvel. Obvious Child stars rising comic actress Jenny Slate as Donna, a struggling standup in New York. A few years shy of 30, Donna hasn’t quite gotten the hang of anything yet in her life—not her career and not her relationship. (In fact, as the film opens, she walks off stage from a small Brooklyn club to discover that her boyfriend is leaving her for her friend.) Thrown into depression, Donna alternates between stalking her ex and trying to turn her misery into standup material. But it’s not until she meets a wholesome, handsome guy named Max (Jake Lacy) at the club that she can see a possibility for new love—a vision that’s complicated by the fact that she gets pregnant after their one-night stand. Obvious Child seeks to rethink the typical twenty-something romantic comedy. The setup is almost a parody of the scenario usually visited upon a sad-sack protagonist: Not only does Donna lose her boyfriend, she also discovers her job is ending, leaving her in a state of total limbo. But Robespierre upends those conventions with the serious development at the film’s center. Obvious Child isn’t blind to the fact that abortion is the closing of a door and the ending of a possible life, but it’s grownup enough to assume that adults can watch one woman’s journey toward terminating a pregnancy and recognize the emotional intricacies that go into that decision. Touching on a red-hot issue, Obvious Child is agreeably gentle, and even wise. —Tim Grierson


someone-great-210.jpg 28. Someone Great
Year: 2019
Director: Jennifer Kaytin Robinson
Netflix’s Someone Great plays out like the visual version of Lorde’s “Supercut.” The song, which is also cleverly placed in the film and promptly re-entered the U.S. iTunes charts last weekend following its release, recounts a magical relationship after the breakup. But instead of surveying the wreckage, Lorde presses play on the good times. “All the moments I play in the dark / Wild and fluorescent, come home to my heart,” she sings. Someone Great’s Jenny (played by Gina Rodriguez, world’s most likeable actress) finds herself in a similar situation. After landing her dream music writing job with Rolling Stone, she and her boyfriend of nine years, Nate (acted by a very hunky LaKeith Stanfield), call it quits, fearing they won’t survive a long-distance relationship split between New York City and Jenny’s future home, San Francisco. The pulsing pop tune from Lorde’s 2017 album Melodrama plays while a literal “Supercut” of Jenny’s and Nate’s relationship flashes before our eyes—Instagram posts, Facebook messages, texts, emails and exchanges with Jenny’s two best friends, Blair (Brittany Snow) and Erin (DeWanda Wise) serve as an intro to a film about reminiscing, reconnecting with friends and, ultimately, moving forward on your own. Rodriguez is, as always, loveable as hell. Wise gives an endearing performance as the romantically hesitant Erin, and the two women, along with Snow, master a refreshing version of the romantic comedy in which female friendship, not just love interests, serves as a plot centerpiece. And as much as I enjoyed watching an R-rated New York City spree complete with foul language, bathroom sex, fierce friendship and joints the size of baseball bats, Someone Great is most memorable for its music. A mixtape of indie stalwarts, pop bliss and Big Freedia, the soundtrack is heaps of fun, deeply meaningful and the most realistic aspect of the film—except maybe the girls’ struggle to get spots on the guest list. That battle is all too real. —Ellen Johnson


princess-cyd.jpg 27. Princess Cyd
Year: 2017
Director: Stephen Cone
At the very beginning of Stephen Cone’s Princess Cyd, Jessie Pinnick’s Cyd is defined by a lack of curiosity that nearly perturbs her aunt, successful writer Miranda Ruth (Rebecca Spence). Cyd doesn’t really read, is not especially into the philosophical or metaphysical questions of life that her aunt explores in her writing. Cyd is, in essence, uninterested in the way we narrativize our lives. But that changes when Cyd’s bond with Miranda grows closer, and she stumbles into an attraction to Katie (Malic White), a genderqueer barista. Cyd’s maturation—emotional and erotic—is astounding, and even when Cyd is unsure of herself or the scope of her life’s plot, Pinnick, as a performer, embraces that uncertainty, striking when need be with subtle offense, or exposing herself with tenderness. The camera is totally enraptured by her confidence. And, in the end, as she walks into the sunlight, we know Pinnick had control over the whole story. —Kyle Turner


sleeping-with-other-people.jpg 26. Sleeping With Other People
Year: 2016
Director: Leslye Headland
The romantic comedy is a genre crying out for an update. We’ve had a few worthy entries in the 21st century—the imaginative Amelie, the clever and quirky Silver Linings Playbook, even the irreverent Knocked Up. But none of those films embraced the genre and all its tropes quite like Leslye Headland’s third film does. With Sleeping With Other People, which is little more than 90 minutes of sexual tension building between two friends, Headland has managed to create a direct descendent of Frank Capra, Billy Wilder, Rob Reiner and Nora Ephron—and make it just as uproariously funny as its forebears’ best works. The film pushes at every boundary without ever feeling unnecessarily tawdry; it’s the Cards Against Humanity version of When Harry Met Sally (there’s even an “I’ll have what she’s having” moment involving a bottle of tea). Alison Brie could be our decade’s Meg Ryan, and Sudekis could be our Hanks—but there’s no doubt that Leslye Headland will keep making us laugh for years to come. —Josh Jackson


spectacular-now.jpg 25. The Spectacular Now
Year: 2013
Director: James Ponsoldt
James Ponsoldt adapted Tim Tharp’s coming-of-age novel with heartfelt sincerity, but falls just shy of a truly deep portrait of adolescence. Miles Teller stars as Sutter, a high-school senior who loves good times and social interaction, but has little care for classwork or future planning. Think Ferris Bueller with concealed depression and an alcohol abuse problem. After his ideal, popular girlfriend dumps him, Sutter vows revenge by the only means he knows: drinking a lot and partying like crazy. Ponsoldt clearly has a gift for getting the best out of his cast, having directed Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s superb performance in Smashed. And Woodley is a force, embodying young love’s innocence, hope and fragility. She dominates every frame she’s in with sweet hesitations and a nervous smile. —Jeremy Mathews


incredible jessica james movie poster.jpg 24. The Incredible Jessica James
Year: 2017
Director: Jim Strouse
Jessica Williams plays Jessica James, twenty-something theatre fanatic trying to get one of her plays produced while simultaneously dealing with a breakup. The ex? Damon, played by the equally wonderful Lakeith Stanfield (Atlanta, Short Term 12), who can’t manage to stay out of Jessica’s dreams. When she meets a new fling, played by the comically refreshing Chris O’Dowd, she begins to re-evaluate her love life while clinging to her goals. When do you know you’ve made it? As lighthearted as the film can be, it’s rooted in an exploration of the deeper questions with which any artist, or person for that matter, grapples. Williams is hilarious, which we all know from her time on The Daily Show. She’s also incredibly powerful, showcasing a feminine strength that’s so crucial to a passion for her craft that’s the opposite of the indifference often associated with millennials. —Meredith Alloway


win-it-all.jpg 23. Win It All
Year: 2017
Director: Joe Swanberg 
Joe Swanberg, bless his unfailing tenacity, appears to get behind the camera and hope everything works out for the best. His style is chancy, but it’s hard not to admire his unabashed love of spontaneity. This is especially true when it does work out for the best, as it does in Win it All. Swanberg co-wrote the film with your underachieving dream boyfriend, New Girl’s Jake Johnson, ostensibly a direct result of their actor-director collaborations in Drinking Buddies and Digging for Fire; Johnson, perhaps unsurprisingly, is the star here, too, playing that aforementioned scruffy gambler, Eddie, a career loser who takes any wager-earning gig he can get by day before flinging his earnings down the crapper playing games of chance at incalculably grimy casinos by night. There is, in grand Swanberg tradition, a looseness to Win it All that remains for the duration of the film, hanging off of Johnson’s central performance. Whether because of his contributions on the page or on the screen, Johnson feels like a key component to Win it All’s success as a narrative: The story hangs off of him, off of his work, his emoting, the physical quality to his self-presentation before a lens. It means a lot that Swanberg and Johnson both care on a profoundly human level for Eddie. Who couldn’t? You probably have an Eddie figure in your life, whether you know it or not: The gregarious, amiable rascal, the kind of dude who just can’t slam the brakes when he’s careening toward trouble, and knows it. He’s a lovable schmuck, his own worst enemy. The people in his life care about him, his creators care about him, and so of course we care about him, too, even at his worst, even as he invites troubles and hazards into his life against all fair warnings given him by his support system. Win it All, in other words, is a Joe Swanberg movie, a domestically-focused tale about a slacker in conflict with his demons washed in the texture of 1960s and 1970s cinema. —Andy Crump.


across-the-universe-poster.jpg 22. Across the Universe
Year: 2007
Director: Julie Taymor
This isn’t your typical, upbeat musical. Julie Taymor’s Across The Universe depicts the fictional lives of 1960s teens facing issues from the Vietnam War to deportation. Thirty-four songs from The Beatles move the story from Liverpool to New York. Although parts of the movie might feel like a bad acid trip (like Bono playing a cowboy drug guru), Evan Rachel Wood and Jim Sturgess perfectly pin the timeless teenage struggles of love, impending adulthood, and the fight for what you believe in. —Sarah Bennett


the-duchess.jpg 21. The Duchess
Year: 2008
Directors: Saul Dibb
After the Duke of Devonshire (Ralph Fiennes) selects the teen Georgiana (Kiera Knightley) to be his wife, she quickly becomes a star to the citizens of the British empire, especially with the up-and-coming Whig party. Everyone adores her except, apparently, her husband, who not only frequently and brazenly adulterizes, but also expects his young wife to raise the daughter of one of his now-deceased dalliances. To make matters worse, she is failing at what he deems to be Georgiana’s most important role: providing the duke with a male heir. It’s enough to drive a duchess to drink, gamble and dabble in a little extra-curricular romance of her own, all of which she does, sometimes to the extreme and definitely to the detriment of the duke. Based on a true story, Knightley shines in her outrages of injustice, both in her character’s personal life and in the political climate of 17th century England. As she finally goes head to head with the duke, waves of tension, fury and despair alternately pour out of the screen with two of many award-worthy performances in the film, including that of Hayley Atwell as the live-in friend and lover to both the duke and duchess. In the end it may not be much more than a glorified, period-piece soap opera (with better outfits) that possibly could have been improved upon with more attention to the duchess’ role in England’s progressive new government, but with riveting performances like these, who cares? —Tim Basham


about-a-boy.jpg 20. About a Boy
Year: 2002
Directors: Chris Weitz, Paul Weitz
No stranger to romantic comedies, Hugh Grant delivered perhaps his best performance ever in About a Boy, a different kind of rom-com based on the novel of the same name by Nick Hornby. Through his relationship with a young teenager, Grant subtly transforms from notorious womanizer into, well, a man capable of loving the beautiful Rachel Weisz. Grant’s relationship with the boy is tender and thoughtful, much like the film itself. —Jeremy Medina


BEST-ROMANTIC-MOVIES-NETFLIX-blue-jay.jpg 19. Blue Jay
Year: 2016
Director: Alex Lehmann
Sarah Paulson is one of the most vital actors working today, and at this particular moment she’s damn close to ubiquitous; here she shows up as one of two leads in newcomer Alex Lehmann’s lovely romantic comedy Blue Jay, a compact and unassuming film about big, life-changing things that’s presented in a beautiful monochrome package. Think of it as a palate cleanser for Paulson after a year spent maneuvering productions of grander scope and ambition. But scale and quality exist in two separate zip codes, and what Blue Jay lacks in import it makes up for with effervescence and melancholy. As though to put Paulson’s luminous talents to the test, Lehmann has cast her alongside Mark Duplass, a man primarily known for making tons of low-fi mutter-fests and whose range allows him comfortably to play himself. Paulson and Duplass make such a great pair that the film’s relative nothingness is pleasurable rather than painful. Blue Jay only clocks in at about an hour and twenty minutes (less, counting the credits scrawl), so it should breeze along by its very nature, but it feels like it only runs about half as long as that. It’s well crafted, well mannered and very well acted, though you may decide for yourself if all credit should go to Paulson. She draws out Duplass’ best merits as an actor, much as Amanda draws out the best in Jim: The more the film progresses, the brighter and more enthusiastic Duplass becomes, relishing every second he gets to be on screen with her. Their chemistry is palpable. —Andy Crump


eagle-shark.jpg 18. Eagle vs. Shark
Year: 2007
Director: Taika Waititi
Before he was sending Thor and the Hulk to the dumpster end of the universe or making a mockumentary about a flat full of vampires, Taika Waititi wrote and directed a simple story about two people trying to fall in love. Starring Jermaine Clement as an awkward and socially unaware high-school kid seeking revenge and finding affection instead, Eagle vs. Shark’s quirky humor and original take on young misfit love would prove that New Zealand had a lot more to offer the film world than wizards and hobbits. Jarrod (Clement) may be the least charming leading man in romantic-comedy history, but shy fast-food worker/songwriter Lily (Loren Horsley) reminds us that we all need love in this sweet, funny debut. —Josh Jackson


lagaan.jpg 17. Lagaan
Year: 2001
Director: Ashutosh Gowariker
You may have heard of Lagaan, one of the most easy entryways into Bollywood. The film famously received India’s third-ever Academy Award nomination in 2001 and is rooted in a rich entanglement of a high-stakes sports game and a forbidden romance. An epic sports drama based in colonial India, Lagaan is the story of a group of Indian villagers who challenge their British colonizers to a game of cricket in exchange for the removal of their increasing burden of taxes. We get recruiting and training montages, drama amongst teammates, an intercultural flirtation, and a bangin’ soundtrack from the legend A.R. Rahman. It has everything and has been rightfully hailed as one of India’s most entertaining and thoughtful productions that seems to only get better with age. —Radhika Menon


four-weddings.jpg 16. Four Weddings and a Funeral
Year: 1994
Director: Mike Newell
The first of several Richard Curtis-penned rom-coms starring Hugh Grant, Four Weddings and a Funeral follows our favorite bumbling Englishman as he repeatedly runs into the love of his life at—you guessed it—four weddings and a funeral. While much of the movie is lighthearted and some of it borders on cheesy (see Andie MacDowell’s infamous “Is it still raining? I hadn’t noticed” line in its finale), its graver moments, like Fiona (Kristen Scott Thomas) dealing with unrequited love or the titular funeral, remind us that love may be goofy and complicated and wonderful, but finding that one true love is serious business. The Academy agreed, nominating the film for Best Picture in a stacked year that included Forrest Gump, Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption. —Bonnie Stiernberg


wet-hot-am-sum.jpg 15. 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, 18 years later and with two Netflix seasons in the can, 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


whos-that-knocking-movie-poster.jpg 14. Who’s That Knocking at My Door?
Year: 1967
Director: Martin Scorsese 
Look at Who’s That Knocking at My Door? as the blueprint for Martin Scorsese’s career, packaged in 90 minutes of running time: Machismo, alcoholism, misogyny, and spiritual identity take up prime real estate here, orbiting Harvey Keitel’s Catholic Italian American lad drifting between adulthood and arrested young male boisterousness with his neighborhood buddies. They drink. They lay about. They watch Charlie Chan movies. They peruse Playboy. Against the backdrop of New York City, Scorsese’s forever favored locale, they do little else. It’s the introduction of a woman, credited as “Girl” and played by Zina Bethune, that disrupts the cycle and slowly draws Keitel’s J.R. away from his old life as Scorsese contrasts the temptations of that life with the redemptive benefits of a committed relationship. Who’s That Knocking at My Door is a director’s film, belonging to Scorsese far more than his cast. It’s a rough movie, but it’s a first movie, and as Scorsese’s first movie it demands examination the way dusty artifacts demand archaeological scrutiny. Even in 1967, he had obvious prowess behind the camera, the confidence of a young man with the latent talent of a master. (At 76, he has the former and has long progressed beyond the latter.) —Andy Crump


blue-valentine.jpg 13. Blue Valentine
Year: 2010
Director: Derek Cianfrance
Most films about disintegrating marriages are grim, gray affairs, and filmmakers often use the device as an excuse to punish their audiences. But Blue Valentine is different—the story is told with such overwhelming tenderness and humanity that although the slow unraveling of Dean’s (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy’s (Michelle Williams) love is still heartbreaking, it feels like the director’s heart is breaking along with yours. That’s rare. It doesn’t hurt that Gosling is in top form, or that Williams gives the finest performance of her career. The script was promising enough to win the Chrysler Film Project even before those performances were turned in, and indie favorites Grizzly Bear contributed a haunting soundtrack. There was really nothing in director Derek Cianfrance’s resume to suggest he had such a nuanced, sensitive film in him, but we’ll certainly be watching his career with interest from here on out. —Michael Dunaway


blue-warmest.jpg 12. 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


as-good-as.jpg 11. As Good as It Gets
Year: 1997
Director: James L. Brooks
Jack Nicholson is not exactly the first person who comes to mind when you think romantic leading man. Certainly, when we first meet Melvin Udall, the mean-tempered, OCD-afflicted curmudgeon at the center of James L. Brooks’ As Good As It Gets, it’s clear he’s no Tom Hanks. That is, until he is one day forced to take care of his neighbor’s dog. This event serves as the catalyst for a poignant Scrooge-like transformation: More in touch with his feelings, Melvin soon grows close to the single-mother/waitress (Helen Hunt) at his favorite restaurant and, in the end, overcomes his self-centeredness and lets her know how highly he thinks of her. Cheesy? Yes. But damn if it doesn’t work. —Mark Rozeman


scott pilgrim poster.jpg 10. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Year: 2010
Director: Edgar Wright 
The films of Edgar Wright’s “Cornetto trilogy” may get more emphasis as the core of the director’s oeuvre, but allow one to submit that Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is the “most Edgar Wright” film we’ve witnessed yet in the still-young filmmaker’s career. A brilliant adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s comic book series of the same name, Scott Pilgrim is a perfectly cast wonder of an action comedy that translates with preternatural ability the comic tension between banality and bombast present on the page. Scott’s (Michael Cera) existence as a slacker musician in a crappy Toronto indie rock band isn’t exciting or glamorous, which makes it all the funnier when his day-to-day romantic life is a series of climactic, overly dramatic videogame boss battles. Each Wright presents with a hyperkinetic style that revels in its joyful disconnect from reality or consequences. Freed from such trivial matters, Wright can present dynamic action sequences that still have time for clever asides and banal workplace humor, simultaneously getting the absolute best out of every person he casts. Really: When has Brandon Routh, as an actor, been put to better use than as an egomaniacal vegan with psychic powers in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World? An early-career Brie Larson as rock singer Envy Adams is a bonus, as well. —Jim Vorel


to-all-the-boys-ive-loved-before-poster.jpg 9. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
Year: 2018
Director: Susan Johnson
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, the teen scene’s newest runaway hit, is a flat-out excellent film. It is not excellent “for a teen flick.” It is not excellent “for a romantic comedy.” It is excellent for a film. TATBILB fully inverts the 80/20 ratio: Within the first 20 minutes, all five of the deeply private love letters our daydreamy, emotionally buttoned-up protagonist Lara Jean (Lana Condor) has written to her childhood crushes over the years have been stolen and mailed out—including the one to her neighbor and best friend, Josh (Israel Broussard), who just happens to also be her older sister’s just barely ex-boyfriend. This swift puncturing of any protracted emotional dishonesty Lara Jean might have hoped to indulge in, well, forever, leaves the film’s final eighty minutes free for her to embrace some really radical emotional honesty. That TATBILB allows Lara Jean to accomplish this not in spite of but through the fanfic-favorite trope of “fake dating” another, less-risky letter recipient (Noah Centineo’s ridiculously charming Peter Kavinsky) is a story strength. Of course, all the emotional honesty in the world wouldn’t matter if TATBILB’s leads didn’t burn with chemistry. Fortunately, Lana Condor and Noah Centineo can get it. Condor and Centineo are undeniably the stars of the show, but TATBILB doesn’t rest on their charismatic laurels: Mahoro as Lucas is a foxy ball of friendliness; Madeleine Arthur as Lara Jean’s best (girl) friend, Chris, is just the wide-eyed punk weirdo she needs to be; Janel Parrish plays against type as the sweet and steel-spined Margot; Anna Cathcart steals every scene as Lara Jean’s meddling little sis, Kitty; and John Corbett plays the healthily engaged version of Kat Stratford’s single OBGYN dad with a discernible glee. The importance of Lara Jean and her sisters being half-Korean, and the majority of the cast (along with Mahoro) non-white, is hard to overstate, but it isn’t the most impressive thing about the cast by a long shot. In a genre that can so often see its characters lean too far into caricature, Lara Jean’s world is instead populated with teens—and through them, love—you can believe in. —Alexis Gunderson


the-lobster.jpg 8. The Lobster
Year: 2015
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’s follow-up to international break-out Dogtooth ditches that film’s knotted familial pathology, but refuses to be any less insular. Instead, it expands, even bloats, Dogtooth’s logic as far as it’ll stretch. I know: That doesn’t make much sense, but stay with me—which is exactly how Lanthimos and co-writer Efthymis Filippou assume the audience will approach The Lobster, starting with the familiar, leading man visage of Colin Farrell, gone full dad-bod for a role that is debatably the actor’s best example for his still unheralded genius. With a remarkable dearth of charm, Farrell inhabits David, a man who, upon learning that his wife has cheated on him and so must end their relationship, is legally required to check in to a hotel where he has 45 days to find a new mate, lest he be transformed into an animal of his choosing. David easily settles upon the titular namesake, the lobster, which he explains he picks because of their seemingly-immortal lifespans, the creatures like human ears growing and growing without end until their supposed deaths. At the hotel, David tries his best to warm to a beautifully soul-less woman, knowing his remaining days are numbered, but the depths to which she subjects his resolve eventually encourages him to plan an escape, through which he matriculates into an off-the-grid conglomerate of single folk, led by Léa Seydoux. There, of course, against all rules he has a meet-cute with another outsider (Rachel Weisz) involving elaborately designed sign language (a metaphor maybe, like much in Lanthimos’s world, for the odd ritual of dating), and they fall in love. The world of The Lobster isn’t a dystopian future, more like a sort of mundane, suburban Everywhere in an allegorical alternate universe. Regardless, Lanthimos and Filippou find no pleasure in explaining the foundations of their film, busier building an absurdly funny edifice over which they can drape the tension and anxieties of modern romance. In that sense, The Lobster is an oddly feminist film, obsessed with time and how much pressure that puts on people, especially women, to root down and find someone, no matter the cost. If you’ve ever had a conversation with a significant other concerned about the increasing dangers of becoming pregnant in one’s late 30s, then The Lobster—and its ambiguous but no less arresting final shot—will strike uncomfortably close to the home you’re told you should have by now but probably can’t afford. —Dom Sinacola


always-be-my-maybe-210.jpg 7. Always Be My Maybe
Year: 2019
Director: Nahnatchka Khan
A film written by and starring Ali Wong and Randall Park was always guaranteed to be a home run, but the endlessly funny and charming Always Be My Maybe truly exceeds all romcom expectations. The duo (who penned the script with Michael Golamco) play childhood friends who lose touch after an impulsive teenage romance ends badly. From there, Wong’s Sasha becomes a celebrity chef as Park’s Marcus continues to live at home and work for his father’s blue collar business after his mother’s tragic passing. They each have things to learn from one another, sure, but Always Be My Maybe doesn’t just end when romance blossoms; it leans into the complications of two adults with independent lives choosing to be together and figuring out how to make it all work. Part of that, crucially, includes both Marcus and Sasha playing supportive roles in one another’s careers rather than compromising and giving up their passions to be together. Director Nahnatchka Khan keeps the stylish film moving at a pleasant comedic clip throughout, and there’s a killer cameo appearance you will not want spoiled before you see the movie. Seriously, you should watch it right now. —Allison Keene


alice-doesnt-live-here-anymore-movie-poster.jpg 6. Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
Year: 1974
Director: Martin Scorsese 
Ellen Burstyn divorced Neil Burstyn in 1972, two years before Martin Scorsese released his fifth feature, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore; she used her experiences in marital separation to shape the movie’s protagonist, a recently widowed housewife who takes tragedy as an opportunity to start afresh. Once upon a time, Alice Hyatt (Burstyn) enjoyed a career as a singer. After marrying her callous husband, Donald (Billy “Green” Bush), she ditched her dream to raise their son, Tommy (Alfred Lutter). Her fate represents its own tragedy, creating an uneasy tension between her past and present circumstances. To the eye, the movie bumps off Donald to liberate Alice from patriarchy’s stultifying grasp, but Scorsese, whom Burstyn sought for the director’s chair after seeing his 1973 masterpiece Mean Streets, tacitly acknowledges that Alice would rather be done with Donald through any means other than a fatal car accident. She seizes her second chance with both hands, making for her childhood hometown of Monterey with Tommy in tow, road tripping across the American Southwest, Phoenix to Tucson. Each stop forces her to consider the question of whether, after so many years, she’s capable of maintaining independence. She’s dealt abuse by the slick, charming Ben (Harvey Keitel), a married man who woos her into a relationship, and ignominies by her temporary job waitressing at a diner. Scorsese’s filmmaking is lively, but determinedly revolves around Burstyn’s wonderful, multilayered performance without stifling it: His aesthetic’s grit gives the narrative an anchor while she breathes vibrant life into the frames. Ultimately, it’s Burstyn’s indomitable spirit that drives Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, affording a portrait of what women’s lives can look like when autonomy and choice are givens. —Andy Crump


shes gotta have it poster.jpg 5. She’s Gotta Have It
Year: 1986
Director: Spike Lee 
Spike Lee arrived as a fully-formed talent with this small-budget, black-and-white debut, which wound up being one of the most important movies in the rise of independent films in the 1980s. Lee brought a voice and verisimilitude to the screen that hadn’t been seen before, with a movie that’s smart, funny and audacious. The central theme—that women can sleep around as much as men, and that they shouldn’t be judged or scorned for it—is still relevant 30 years later. In fact, it’s so relevant Lee adapted the movie into a Netflix series that premiered last year. —Garrett Martin


Groundhog1212.jpg 4. Groundhog Day
Year: 1993
Director: Harold Ramis
Bill Murray, director/co-writer Harold Ramis and screenwriter Danny Rubin take a Twilight Zone-esque comedic premise—a self-centered weatherman gets stuck experiencing February 2 again and again—and find unexpected profundity. A more conventional film would have love resolve the chronological predicament, but instead, it falls to TV personality Phil (Murray) to become the best version of himself he can possibly be in order to be with Rita (Andie McDowell). Whether it’s a Hollywood comedy challenging middle-class Americans to shake themselves from their middle-class torpor, or a meditation on our unattainable ideas of perfection, Groundhog Day doesn’t just elicit laughs, but leaves audiences more deeply moved than they ever expected—even inspiring some obsessive fans, including one fellow who calculated, down to the day, the number of decades Murray spent in February 2. —Curt Holman


crouching-tiger.jpg 3. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Year: 2000
Director: Ang Lee 
Ang Lee’s Oscar-winning epic is not only the highest-grossing foreign film ever in America (still), but it also happens to be a film that changed the cinematic landscape: an old-school wuxia flick, with pulpy soul and a romantic heart, that reinvigorated the genre for a whole new audience. Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi play 19th-century warriors whose loyalty and vitality are tested by a series of events that lead each to contemplate their many decisions that brought them together. Beyond the entrancing and lyrical storytelling, Crouching Tiger stands as a rare, beautiful beacon of hope: a foreign film that was actually universally embraced by Western audiences. Here’s to hoping that happens more often, though it’s been almost two decades and nothing has had the same impact since. —Jeremy Medina


the grduate poster.jpg 2. The Graduate
Year: 1967
Director: Mike Nichols
In the undisputed king of movies for those headed out into the real world, a hyper-accomplished recent grad (Dustin Hoffman) panics at the prospect of his future and falls into an affair with the much older wife of his father’s business partner (Anne Bancroft). It helped define a generation long since embalmed by history, but the sense of longing for an alternative hasn’t aged. —Jeffrey Bloomer


her.jpg 1. Her
Year: 2013
Director: Spike Jonze 
Spike Jonze’s colossal talent was far too great to remain trapped in MTV’s orbit; that became immediately clear when his breakout feature-length debut, Being John Malkovich, earned him an Oscar nod for Best Director. Following that minor postmodern masterpiece, he and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman continued their journey into solipsism with the hilariously unhinged Adaptation. As challenging, yet fun and accessible as Kaufman’s screenplays are, Jonze’s Her answers any lingering questions of whether those two movies’ (well-deserved) acclaim sprang solely from the power of Kaufman’s words. Retaining the sweetest bits of the empathetically quirky characters, psycho-sexuality and hard-wrung pathos of Malkovich, Her successfully realizes a tremendously difficult stunt in filmmaking: a beautifully mature, penetrating romance dressed in sci-fi clothes. Eye-popping sets and cinematography, as well as clever dialogue delivered by a subtly powerful Joaquin Phoenix, make Jonze’s latest feature one of the best films of 2013. It also serves as confirmation that—much like Her—the director is the complete package. —Scott Wold

Also in Movies