The 60 Best Dramas Streaming on Netflix

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The 60 Best Dramas Streaming on Netflix

Drama is the broadest of genres. 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 drama, 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, even if that includes a little more Quentin Tarantino than you might have expected.

Here are the 60 Best Dramas currently streaming on Netflix. The list is up-to-date as of July 10, 2015.

60. Joe

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Year: 2014
Director: David Gordon Green
David Gordon Green’s latest effort, Joe, is a poetic, unexpectedly tender slice of underclass drama that also exudes a certain kind of metaphorical connection to the low-lying fog of economic desperation that presently holds so many in its grip. An adaptation of the late Larry Brown’s 1991 novel of the same name, Green’s film centers on Gary (Tye Sheridan), a 15-year-old Texas kid whose father (Gary Poulter) is a shiftless, alcoholic lout. Near-homeless and hungry, both figuratively and literally, Gary hooks a job with Joe Ransom (Nicolas Cage), a strong-willed ex-convict who isn’t really a role model but — out of necessity and by degrees — begins to assume that mantle. Not entirely unlike Prince Avalanche, Green’s last film, Joe is a work of plaintive portraiture and, broadly speaking, a movie about confused men finding their way in the world. Cage and Sheridan (The Tree of Life, Mud) have a great rapport, and the veteran actor in particular delivers a magnetic, dialed-in performance, his most layered of the last several years.—Brent Simon

59. Finding Neverland

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Year: 2004
Director: Marc Foster
Johnny Depp’s ability to tap into the mind of J.M. Barrie for this Oscar-nominated role was charming and heartbreaking. Adults that were fans of Peter Pan fought back tears of nostalgia, while youngsters watched in amazement as Barrie’s imagination came to life. The best part about Depp’s portrayal of the Scottish playwright was that there were no intricate costumes and make-up to transform him. His raw acting talent shined through and you felt as if he were really Barrie and not some caricature of him.—Adam Vitcavage

58. A Hijacking

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Year: 2012
Director: Tobias Lindholm
Country: Denmark
Language: Danish/English
A Hijacking delivers all the thrills the title suggests, but in none of the places you’d expect them. Even the hijacking—the most obvious candidate for a set piece—happens off camera. The movie depicts a volatile situation that could go wrong at any moment. A single misstep could cost people their lives. This creates a psychological strain not only on the prisoners, but on the people trying to free them. Danish writer/director Tobias Lindholm has crafted the movie in a straight-forward manner that lays out the scenario and lets the emotions come forth on their own. Shot with handheld cameras, the movie cross-cuts between two perspectives. On the ship, Somali pirates hold hostage the crew of a freight ship bound for India. Back in Denmark, the corporate office attempts to get everyone home safely. There would have been several easy, predictable ways to make a film about A Hijacking’s subject matter. Lindholm pressed toward unexpected territory and found the real drama.—Jeremy Mathews

57. Norte, the End of History

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Year: 2013
Director: Lav Diaz
Country: Philipines
Language: Filipino
As more a statement of purpose than a warning, it should be noted: Norte is over four hours long. And so, for even the most enduring of audiences, the film requires a degree of patience that is seemingly inhuman—which, appropriately enough, is sort of the point. Norte’s plot is simple—it’s a modern take on Crime and Punishment, wherein our Raskolnikov character, rather than become inhibited by guilt, truly rages against the dying of the light—but its execution is herculean. Long, crawling takes revel in wandering conversations and the minutiae of a laborer’s life; the camera rarely moves, and close-ups are functionally non-existent. All that the audience can do is wait, and think, and eventually sit in hunched awe before something that so adores its characters that it offers nothing to grip, no crutch to lean against, but the idea that we are watching ordinary people suffer and die for no other reason than that they are human beings beset by the chaos of chance on a tragically uninterested planet. Once you’ve seen it, you will most likely never see it again…but that hardly matters.—Dom Sinacola

56. Frida

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

55. The Kids are All Right

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Year: 2011
Director: Lisa Cholodenko
With a trifecta of leads in Julianne Moore, Annette Benning and Mark Ruffalo, Lisa Cholodenko’s story of a lesbian couple reluctantly introducing their children to their sperm-donor father balances its family drama with welcome moments of laughter. The tension between Annette Benning’s uptight doctor and the carefree (and often careless) man disrupting the order she’s tried to establish is something most families can relate to. And Ruffalo plays the perfect rascal—someone you can’t dislike even when his actions beg you to. And the “kids,” then-emerging talents Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson, grounded the story, holding their own next to the grown-ups.—Josh Jackson

54. The Wind That Shakes the Barley

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Year: 2007
Director: Ken Loach
Winner of the 2006 Palm d’Or at Cannes, The Wind That Shakes the Barley thrusts viewers into the rainy landscapes and political tumult of 1920s Ireland. Cillian Murphy gives a potent performance as Damien, a doctor persuaded by his brother (Padraic Delaney) to join the rebel army, which sought to oust the British Black and Tans from their Irish occupation in the 1920s. Though united in a series of ambushes and skirmishes, the Irish “Flying Column” force becomes divided against itself when politics and ideals change, and the brothers ?nd themselves grappling with their loyalties to country and family. It’s a movie about a war, but it’s not a war movie; rather, it’s a quiet, heartbreaking meditation on unity and division in families and nations. Though riddled with bullets and brutality, the ?lm expresses the famously indomitable Irish spirit with subtlety, humanity and passion.—Alissa Wilkinson

53. Omar

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Year: 2014
Director:Hany Abu-Assad
More trenchant as a political allegory than a character drama, Omar is more interested in the ideas within this slow-burn thriller than in plot machinations. To writer-director Hany Abu-Assad, maniacal twists and cunning action set pieces would simply get in the way—better that we spend our time thinking about why the characters find themselves in this situation at all. Nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, Omar stars Adam Bakri as the titular young Palestinian, who must daily scale the imposingly tall security wall that separates him from his girlfriend, Nadia (Leem Lubany). Though very much in love, they haven’t yet revealed their relationship to her brother (and Omar’s good friend) Tarek (Eyad Hourani), who is planning with Omar and another close pal, Amjad (Samer Bisharat), to kill an Israeli soldier. The three friends’ mission is a success—it’s Amjad who pulls the trigger—but soon after, Omar is snagged by Israeli forces, led by Agent Rami (Waleed F. Zuaiter). Threatening Omar with imprisonment, Rami promises him freedom if he’ll deliver Tarek, the group’s leader, to them in exchange. What’s most resonant in Omar is that, just as we can’t always gauge the characters, they’re, too, concealing parts of themselves from each other, a byproduct of living in a part of the world where distrust is commonplace and secrecy a necessity. Which is why Omar’s startling ending is both somewhat mystifying and also oddly perfect—we don’t see it coming, and yet deep down, we’re not surprised at all that it happened.—Tim Grierson

52. Like Water For Chocolate

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Year: 1992
Director: Alfonso Arau
An adaptation of Laura Esquievel’s novel about Mexican cooking and magical realism, Like Water for Chocolate depicts the passionate but forbidden love between two young people, Tita and Pedro. As Tita cooks, her moods and emotions directly enter her food, evoking violently powerful reactions—sometimes positive, sometimes disastrous—in all who eat her cooking.—Emily Riemer

51. Blue is the Warmest Color

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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

50. All is Lost

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Year: 2013
Director: J.C. Chandor
The parallels between Gravity and All Is Lost are obvious: A lone protagonist survives the destruction of her or his space shuttle/boat, loses all communication with Earth/land and must navigate solo through the vastness of space/the ocean to get back home. But in some ways, writer-director J.C. Chandor’s story about an old man and the sea is a bolder film, eschewing backstory, sentimentality and even dialogue in favor of a primal tale of survival.—Annlee Ellingson

49. Nebraska

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Year: 2013
Director: Alexander Payne
The first question at the Cannes press conference for Nebraska, the new film from Alexander Payne, was about why the director decided to shoot his comedy-drama in black and white. It’s an understandable query. Studios don’t like black-and-white movies from a commercial perspective and, because Payne’s films emphasize character and dialogue, they’re not necessarily thought of as being grandly cinematic, which might require such a striking look. But after seeing the film, the choice makes more than a little sense. Payne doesn’t use black and white to make his movie grand. Quite the contrary, he uses the lack of color to illustrate his characters’ tiny, quiet existence. To paraphrase a line from Paul Simon, their lives are so common they practically disappear.—Tim Grierson

48. The Chorus

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Year: 2004
Director: Christophe Barratier
Released in Europe in 2005, The Chorus outsold Harry Potter at the French box office. The film’s soundtrack, which featured choral music written by leading French film composer Bruno Coulais, hit number one on the French charts. And all over the country, young people started clamoring to join choruses for the first time. The film tells the story of world-class conductor Pierre Morhange, who opens his door to a man he barely recognizes, named Pépinot. Pépinot brings Pierre a strange gift—the diary of Clément Mathieu, their former teacher. As the two men remember their past, they are transported back to Fond de l’Etang (literally, “rock bottom”), the school for rebellious boys they both attended. Run by the dictatorial Rachin (Franois Berléand), Fond de l’Etang is a place where hope dies under the hands of frustrated instructors who resort to corporal punishment at the first sign of trouble. When a new teacher, Clément Mathieu, arrives, he’s discouraged by the school’s climate, but manages to convince the director to allow a choral group. Then Clément sets about teaching the boys to sing.—Annabelle Robertson

47. Silver Linings Playbook

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

46. Short Term 12

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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

45. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

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

44. Beginners

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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

43. The Wolf of Wall Street

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Year: 2013
Director: Martin Scorsese
It’s tempting to compare The Wolf of Wall Street with that other famous ode to financial district excess, Wall Street. But though the two films share one layer of message—behold the high-flying lifestyle loose morals and shaky ethics can bring you in the land of stocks!—Scorsese’s film is a meaner, more cynical and, worst of all, probably truer vision of the lifestyles of the rich, dissolute and famous. (Oliver Stone’s 1987 film seems quaintly naive by comparison.) The Wolf of Wall Street lacks even the pretense of a moral center—with the exception of some half-hearted, mopey warnings from his dad (Rob Reiner), Belfort has no real conscience. Even Agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler), who pursues and catches him—an ideal opportunity to give a face to the people Belfort has scammed—seems little more than an inconvenient party pooper. Not content with the implicit message contained in the lightness of Belfort’s punishment, Scorsese even rubs it in a bit with a final look at Denham riding home on the subway.—Michael Burgin

42. Glengarry Glen Ross

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

41. Bernie

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

40. Dirty Pretty Things

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

39. Django Unchained

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

38. Ida

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

37. Infernal Affairs

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

36. Inglourious Basterds

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

35. Y Tu Mama Tambien

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

34. Force Majeure

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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

33. The Conformist

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

32. Dead Man

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Year: 1995
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Jim Jarmusch directed this post-modern examination of the western film genre as American pop culture finally began to veer away from the expected western films. Jarmusch introduced a complete retrospection of a genre plagued with so many social follies. Depp’s somber, quiet character, William Blake, is reflective of the heroes of the Wild West’s past, but it’s his journey that makes this character stand apart.—Clint Alwahab

31. Das Boot

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Year: 1981
Director: Wolfgang Petersen
The Germans weigh in on World War II in a positively claustrophobic film set inside a submarine. Wolfgang Petersen’s genius was filming over the course of a year, in sequence. The strain of the production schedule shows on the actors’ faces as the film progresses. By movie’s end, we’re not quite sure who we should be cheering for, which reminds us that on human terms, no one wins a war. —Joan Radell

30. The Sacrifice

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Year: 1986
Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Country: Sweden
Language: Swedish
Tarkovsky’s last film before he succumbed to lung cancer at 54, The Sacrifice, like pretty much every one of his films to come before it, is a gradually building meditation on contentment, happiness and the lengths to which we’ll go as human animals to guarantee our survival. Which is only skimming the surface of every existential quandary pumping through this piece—because for all it has in mind, for all that’s been said about it, for all it contemplates with the fine-tuned patience of a monk-like master, The Sacrifice is, above all, a sweet and gorgeously sad testament to the impossible questions great films necessarily ask of us. The story of an artist living an idyllic life by the sea, whose philosophies are shaken to the core by the (implied) onset of World War III, the film winds its way to a grand conclusion, an image of humble apocalypse that, more than glimpses of the tragedies of war or the destruction of a nuclear holocaust, will stay with you for a lifetime.—Dom Sinacola

29. Battleship Potemkin

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

28. Shakespeare in Love

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Year: 1998
Director: John Madden
Another film whose reputation has suffered somewhat since its initial reception, largely in this case as a result of an ill-considered Oscar and Gweneth Paltrow’s ill-considered management of her public persona since then. No one is more annoyed with latter-day Goop than me, but even I can admit that Shakespeare in Love gets a bad rap. It’s delightful, especially for those with any experience in the theater whatsoever (the theater world itself is the romantic interest of the film, every bit as much as Gweneth’s Viola de Lesseps). And, it’s now safe to say out loud – Ben Affleck is fantastically charming in this film. If you haven’t seen it in awhile, you’ll be surprised at how much more you like it than you remembered.—Michael Dunaway

27. Mud

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

26. The Pianist

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Year: 2002
Director: Roman Polanski
While many great performances rely on dramatic and affecting dialogue, Adrien Brody’s turn as real life musician Wladyslaw Szpilman in Roman Polanski’s Holocaust drama The Pianist is hushed, a sullen-eyed lost soul hanging on to a world cloaked in gray. As the title character, Brody became a living skeleton, an all-too-real representation of one of history’s darkest periods.—Justin Jacobs

25. My Left Foot

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Year: 1999
Director: Jim Sheridan
Outstanding performances and cinematography are the hallmarks of this biopic. Well known for his total-immersion method of character acting, Daniel Day-Lewis takes on the challenge of his career in the role of Christy Brown, an acclaimed Irish writer and artist with cerebral palsy who is only able to control his left foot. This true story is filmed on location, and is a visually compelling study of the slums of Dublin. Director James Sheridan wisely gives us a complete portrait of Brown, warts and all. Bitter, unlikeable and amazingly talented, Christy Brown succeeds in making us cheer for him even as we curse him.—Joan Radell

24. Blue Velvet

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Director: David Lynch
Year: 1986
Blue Velvet represents everything cinema can be: horrific, hilarious, reality heightened to inexplicable, nearly intolerable heavens. This is storytelling as symbology, traditional American genres like noir and the thriller picked apart with unsettling aplomb. For example, take the noir part of this equation: Lynch concocts an Oedipal circumstance out of Kyle MacLachlan’s innocent boy and Dennis Hopper’s evil “daddy,” with Isabella Rosselini’s sexy “mommy” persona both an unobtainable feminine figure and a sweet presence that must be protected. As adorable Everyman Jeffrey Beaumont (MacLachlan) is seduced ever deeper into the disgusting underground of American domesticity (represented by a series of insectisoid images, the denizens of our creepy crawly underworld), his outlook is light, and psychopathic Frank Booth’s (Hopper) is dark—in fact, Frank comments on this. Of course, he’s talking literally about the illumination of the room, but he also huffs helium and calls himself Van Gogh, so every gesture, every sideways word should be taken with a grain of salt. Or fertilizer. And so, in black and white, Lynch finds blue: There is something deeply sad about the kind of normal, everyday stuff Lynch fixates upon, and in Blue Velvet that sadness is, whether we like it or not, the closest a film in the 1980s ever got to realizing the American Dream.—Dom Sinacola

23. Amores Perros

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Year: 2000
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Country: Mexico
Language: Spanish
Looking back on it, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s directorial debut turned out to be supremely influential. Amores Perros was the first of his so-called “Death Trilogy” (alongside 21 Grams and Babel), and set the precedent for his time-bending, anthology-format brand of storytelling. The film hinges on one singular car accident that has a ripple effect in several people’s lives, illuminated by three separate stories populated by an array of impressive Mexican actors (including Gael Garcia Bernal), with the the seemingly-contradictory story of a sympathetic hit man being the most moving of the bunch.—Jeremy Medina

22. Heavenly Creatures

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Year: 1994
Director: Peter Jackson
Before making this feverish biopic based on a notorious case in New Zealand history, Peter Jackson was best known for grisly horror comedies like Brain Dead (released in U.S. as Dead Alive). Heavenly Creatures captures the psychological landscapes of two teenage girls (Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey in their big screen debuts) whose obsession with their shared imaginary world draws them further from reality. Without Jackson’s breathless narrative and ingenious fantasy scenes in Heavenly Creatures, he never would have gotten the Lord of the Rings gig, but Creatures stand on its own as a compelling thriller and commentary on moral hypocrisy. In real life, Winslet’s character grew up to be mystery writer Anne Perry.—Curt Holman

21. The Kid With a Bike

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Year: 2011
Directors: Jean-Pierre Dardennes, Luc Dardenne
As portrait of a young boy’s resilience and of compassion shown by one human being towards another, The Kid with a Bike is part of the grand tradition of humanist realism. Watching the Dardennes’ cinema, one can’t help but be reminded of luminous predecessors like The 400 Blows and Bicycle Thieves, movies featuring marginalized children forced to endure hostile environments. But, more than any other filmmaker, their work bears the strongest resemblance to that of the late master Robert Bresson. With their powerful moral undercurrents, minimalist acting and ascetic style, Bresson’s films (Mouchette would make an excellent companion piece to The Kid with a Bike) weren’t concerned so much with stories and characters as with the ideas they helped to illuminate—namely the continual war between man’s baser and higher instincts, between the evils of mistrust and crime, and the virtues of charity, compassion and love. The Kid with a Bike is a beautifully executed variation on those themes.—Jay Antani

20. Cinema Paradiso

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Year: 1988
Director: Giuseppe Tornatore
Giuseppe Tornatore’s ode to film and love provided a shot in the arm to Italy’s film industry, as well as that rarest of films—the “great subtitled date film”—for the American film-goer. It also took home the Oscar for Best Foreign Film. (The extended cut of the film reveals a more complicated take on nostalgia and the film’s father figure.)—Michael Burgin

19. Fruitvale Station

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Year: 2013
Director: Ryan Coogler
When someone dies young—especially in a tragic fashion—it can be tempting for the bereaved to reduce the deceased to little more than an angelic, idealized figure. We’re so understandably wrapped up in our grief that we focus on that person’s most positive characteristics, setting aside everything about him or her that doesn’t fit that glowing remembrance. Writer-director Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station aims for something far more difficult: mourning an ordinary, clearly flawed man without denying his inherent failings. This more nuanced portrait does nothing to diminish the shame of Oscar Grant’s death—if anything, it only intensifies its sting. —Tim Grierson

18. Jackie Brown

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Year: 1997
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Quentin Tarantino’s underappreciated gem Jackie Brown sees Pam Grier as the title character who shakes up the world of bail bondsman Max Cherry (Robert Forster). One of the most brilliant notes in both the main actors’ performances is the stillness that each brings to his character. But if the actors are part of the orchestra, so is the music.—Michael Dunaway

17. Days of Heaven

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Year: 1978
Director: Terrence Malick
Terrence Malick recreated the biblical story of Abraham and Sarah as an American myth as large as the southwest it’s supposed to take place in. One of the most immediately noticeable aspects of the film is its stunning cinematography. Following the tradition of the French New Wave and other independent American pictures from the ‘70s, director of photography Nestor Almendros rejected artificial lighting as much as he felt he could and the result is a picture that feels like nothing else from the period. With Badlands Malick found out how to make a film, but it was with Days of Heaven that he found his mature style, and since then he’s used the same elliptical, minimalist storytelling and improvised scenes in everything he’s done.—Sean Gandert

16. The Conversation

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Year: 1974
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
The really incredible fact about this film is that Coppola made it as a side project between Godfather movies (which I’ve left off purposefully despite their greatness). Starring Gene Hackman, it’s the story of a surveillance technician coming face to face with the implications of his job, and the paranoia of being watched at every moment. It was nominated for Best Picture in 1974, an award that went to The Godfather, Part II. It’s one of the rare times in film history when a director has lost to himself.—Shane Ryan

15. Trainspotting

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Year: 1996
Director: Danny Boyle
Based on the gritty Irvine Welsh novel of the same name, this early film from the director of Slumdog Millionaire and Millions follows a thuggish group of heroin addicts in Scotland and features brilliant performances from young Ewan McGregor, Kelly Macdonald and Robert Carlyle. At times funny, gripping and nightmarishly haunting, Trainspotting is not an easy movie to forget.—Josh Jackson

14. Rosemary’s Baby

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Year: 1968
Director: Roman Polanski
The most famous of Polanski’s paranoid thrillers, not to mention the most inviolable. The film infiltrates a privileged space of middle-class entitlement and pollutes it with the most extreme evil possible: sweet, unassuming Rosemary (Mia Farrow) is pregnant, but could her baby already belong to someone else? The volatile climax has an answer, and the sequence has remained one of the most celebrated in horror history for good reason.—Sean Edgar

13. The Station Agent

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Year: 2003
Director: Thomas McCarthy
One of the early breakout roles for Game of Thrones’ Peter Dinklage was this warm, funny story of a reclusive man who moves into an abandoned train depot. Director Thomas McCarthy has made a career of caring deeply for his characters in films like The Visitor and Win Win, and here it’s to slowly convince Dinklage’s Finbar McBride that his low view of humanity might just be wrong. It’s a contemplative, tender, hilarious film that feels both real and uplifting. If only George R.R. Martin would give Tyrion this kind of break.—Josh Jackson

12. High Fidelity

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Year: 2000
Director: Stephen Frears
Nick Hornby really is tapped into the psyche of the turn-of-the-century male. John Cusack plays the every-man type who retraces his past girlfriend history only to find he let the perfect woman slip through his fingers. Funny, insightful and insanely quotable, High Fidelity plays like an ultra-hip Woody Allen movie, which is a very good thing indeed.—Jeremy Medina

11. Chinatown

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Year: 1974
Director: Roman Polanski
When you look at Jack Nicholson’s run of films in what I’ll call the ‘New Hollywood’ era, starting with Easy Rider in 1969 and ending with The Shining in 1980, it’s truly astounding. There’s barely a dud on the list, and so it’s really saying something that Chinatown, Roman Polanski’s crime classic, stands out among the best. The central mystery is bold for its complexity, revolving around water rights in southern California—a plot that remains relevant today—and was undoubtedly an influence for the second season of True Detective. Like much of Polanski’s work, an ominous atmosphere works alongside the plot, shadowing every character in doubt and undermining the possibility of a clean conclusion. In Polanski’s world, the mere fact that a mystery is solved doesn’t mean there’s a happy ending, and his incredible powers of ambiguity have never been so strong as in Chinatown. Add Nicholson at his most essential, along with a young Faye Dunaway and an aging John Huston, and this is truly one of the classics of American cinema.).—Shane Ryan

10. Dead Man Walking

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Year: 1995
Director: Tim Robbins
Any film that addresses one of the big, divisive issues of our day (abortion, immigration, homosexuality, etc.) runs the risk of being preachy. But the subject of this death-penalty film isn’t some wrongly accused saint. Sean Penn’s Matthew Poncelet is a murderer and the point of view of the victims’ family isn’t belittled. Still, the story’s heroine, the nun played by Susan Sarandon, finds empathy for all involved, and seeing that play out in all its cosmic difficulty is wonderfully redemptive.—Josh Jackson

9. Roman Holiday

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Year: 1953
Director: William Wyler
Start by casting the male lead with one the most honorable, decent leading men in the history of American cinema. Then cast the female lead with one of the most graceful, beguiling women ever to appear onscreen. Add one of the most beautiful cities in the world and the music of Cole Porter and you’ve already got a worldbeater of a movie. But the beautiful, tentative, demure performances by Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn, and the greatest bittersweet romantic ending this side of Casablanca, seal the deal.—Michael Dunaway

8. Reservoir Dogs

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Year: 1992
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Reservoir Dogs’ debut at the 1992 Sundance Film Festival launched not only the career of one Quentin Tarantino but an American indie genre unto itself characterized by extreme violence, profane dialogue, nonlinear storytelling and a curated soundtrack. Many have tried, but none of his imitators has achieved the visual and aural poetry at work in Tarantino’s oeuvre, particularly his magnum opus Pulp Fiction, upon whose release in 1994 newly minted fans went back to discover the aftermath of Mr. Blonde, Mr. Blue, Mr. Brown, Mr. Orange, Mr. Pink and Mr. White’s botched diamond heist (but not the heist itself). This is where it all began.—Annlee Ellingson

7. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

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Year: 1969
Director: George Roy Hill
Paired with Robert Redford, Paul Newman tore into his part as the folk outlaw Butch Cassidy and created an instant touchstone of the genre. That Newman lent his star to a film with criminal heroes was a revolutionary act for an actor of his stature at the time, and for that it’ll likely remain his best-remembered role.—Jeffrey Bloomer

6. Taxi Driver

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No longer streaming on Netflix
Year: 1976
Director: Martin Scorsese
Taxi Driver was Scorsese’s breakthrough: a seething condemnation of alienation—not to mention New York’s descent in the 1970s into a crime-ridden hellscape—delivered with such clinical coldness that when Scorsese’s star (and longtime collaborator) Robert De Niro finally explodes, it’s unspeakably upsetting. If Taxi Driver now feels slightly overrated, it’s only because the movie’s DNA has crept into so many subsequent filmmakers’ efforts. Scorsese grew up loving Westerns, and Taxi Driver could be his version of The Searchers—except his man-out-of-time finds no redemption.—Tim Grierson

5. Pulp Fiction

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Year: 1994
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Still Quentin Tarantino’s greatest accomplishment, Pulp Fiction rehashes a handful of other great gangster movies to form a modern masterpiece. In a full-circle plot of crossings and complications, the smart elick of a movie takes us on an ultra-violent and ultra-funny ride with John Travolta at his best and Samuel L. Jackson dropping F-bombs like no one else.—David Roark

4. City of God

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Year: 2003
Director: Fernando Meirelles
Country: Brazil
Language: Portuguese
Originally released in January 2003 to critical praise, Fernando Meirelles’ masterful yet brutal City of God receded from view until Miramax re-released it for Oscar consideration. And while it failed to even garner a foreign-language-film nomination that year, the alternately intense and intimate depiction of Rio’s desperate favelas has only grown in stature and power. Based on the novel by Paulo Lins (and adapted by Bráulio Mantovani), Meirelles turned an unflinching eye on a world forgotten by the wealthy and powerful, ignored by police and indifferent to law and order. City of God set the template for other shocking urban films to follow (not to mention a revival of “favela funk” by music-marauders like Diplo and M.I.A.). But whereas other cinematic studies like Gomorrah (about modern Sicily) and the documentary Dancing with the Devil only wallowed in such viciousness, this film plunged deeper, gripped harder, and yet always allowed glints of humanity into such darkness. City of God’s harrowing depiction of daily violence in the favelas exemplifies in shocking detail the Hobbesian view of life as “nasty, brutish, and short,” but the film never casts judgment. While chaos and bloodshed rule the world of protagonist Rocket and those of his generation—psychotic druglord Li’l Zé, groovy playboy Benny and solemn Knockout Ned (singer Seu Jorge, in his breakout role)—City of God elucidates an underlying symmetry, exhibiting if not poetic justice, then the street version of the same.—Andy Beta

3. Apocalypse Now

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Year: 1979
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Francis Ford Coppola’s best film without the word “Godfather” in it was the result of two years in the jungle, which led to performances that captured mental breakdown in a way that felt all too real. The update to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness was a different kind of war movie, one which captured the horror of war and the madness of Vietnam like no other before or since. See the original film or the 2001 edit with additional footage, Apocalypse Now Redux, both available on Netflix Instant.—Josh Jackson

2. Fargo

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Year: 1996
Directors: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
In exploring the unsavory implications of “Minnesota nice,” the Coen Brothers created one of the most beloved, acclaimed and quotable films of all time. “Fargo” explores the tension that accompanies polite social norms and the quiet desperations they often mask, and many scenes are awkward enough to make your skin crawl. The emotional restraint displayed by Jerry Lundegaard and Mike is a thin and disingenuous veil over yearnings for money or companionship. The foil to this, obviously, is Marge Gunderson, who just really is that nice and hardworking and downright normal. Because of her and her husband’s gentleness, the movie makes you appreciate the art behind postage stamps as much as it makes you cringe at the sound of a wood chipper.—Allie Conti

1. The Bicycle Thief (Ladri di biciclette)

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Year: 1948
Director: Vittorio De Sica
This tale of a father and son in poverty-stricken Italy is on of the most moving films I’ve ever seen. Part of the neo-realism movement, it was shot on the streets of Rome and was quickly recognized as a masterpiece by film critics around the world. There’s simply no better way to spend 89 minutes in front of screen.—Josh Jackson