There’s a lot of disagreement in the air these days, in case you haven’t noticed. The one thing everyone can agree on right now is that streaming entertainment is our lord and savior, a recently elevated equivalent to food, shelter, and oxygen in our current hierarchy of needs, and we need some goddamn more of it to get us through the night.
Streaming platforms are up to the task. There’s a dizzying amount of content available. Only some of it is good. So, to help you clear through the clutter, I’m offering my top 12 recommendations for what to watch on Netflix.
These aren’t the most obvious recommendations. (Do you really need me to tell you that Tootsie and Taxi Driver are worth your time? I hope not!) I’m also not here to tell you to watch Tiger King, because you did that already. (And I hope you’re ashamed of yourself.)
These are the films you may or may not have seen, may or may not even know about, that earn my stamp of approval for both quality and entertainment value.
1. SUPER DARK TIMES
(Drama / Thriller)
Four teens decide to mess around with a super deadly katana sword, and in the process, one of them makes a super big mistake, resulting in the titular super dark times. Set in the latter half of the 90s, this low-key thriller is one part coming-of-age drama, another part Stephen King. It’s sort of like Stranger Things, but super dark.
(Drama / Mystery)
Lee Chang Dong’s slow-burn thriller has as much to say about class disparity in South Korea as recent Best Picture winner Parasite, and in its own subtle way, is equally sinister. It’s something like a slow-burn spin on The Talented Mr. Ripley.
3. WE THE ANIMALS
(Coming of Age Drama)
A Puerto Rican-American boy grows distant from his working class parents and troublemaking brothers as he awakens to his burgeoning homosexuality. Like the novella it’s based on, it’s achingly emotional.
4. OTHER PEOPLE
An aspiring SNL writer (Jesse Plemons) finds his life plan derailed when his mom (Molly Shannon) gets diagnosed with cancer. Equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking.
A substance abuser with a troubled past returns home for Thanksgiving dinner clean and sober — but her family’s distrust threatens to send her spiraling out of control once again. Trey Edward Shults used his own family members as actors, and shot in their own house — with a tiny budget and shooting schedule. A master class on how to get the most out of minimal resources.
6. FRANCES HA
Frances Halladay (Greta Gerwig) is a lovable mess of a millennial, trying to make it in the Big City. It isn’t going well. Harkens back to the finest moments of Woody Allen’s heyday, but without the skeezy subtext.
7. THE SQUID AND THE WHALE
Before he teamed up with Gerwig, Noah Baumbach’s calling card was this spiky 2005 divorce dramedy, starring Jesse Eisenberg as a teen torn between his narcissistic parents (Laura Linney and Jeff Daniels) during their split.
8. SLOW WEST
(Drama / Western)
An idealistic young Scottish immigrant pursues the girl of his dreams in the American West, guided by Irish bounty hunter Silas Selleck (Michael Fassbender). Slow West doesn’t star American actors, wasn’t shot in the United States, and is unlike any Western you’ve ever seen — especially by the time we get to the climax’s brutal final showdown.
A college professor (Jake Gyllenhaal) spots his doppelganger in a movie, driving an obsession with the background actor (also Jake Gyllenhaal) who looks exactly like him. It unfolds in a nightmarish, increasingly surreal Toronto that is undergoing a serious case of arachnophobia. Two Jakes are better than one.
10. THE BLING RING
The bonkers true story of listless upper-middle-class teens who target homes of celebs like Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan for robbery makes for a fizzy little crime caper and even better social commentary. Sofia Coppola’s satire of 2000s tabloid frenzy has only gotten sharper over the past few years, and Emma Watson gives a career-best turn as the biggest fame whore of the bunch.
11. THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES
What begins as a darkly romantic crime saga evolves into something else entirely, exploring the unspoken bonds that link men on either side of the law, or across time and generations. Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper alternately anchor the drama, with Rose Byrne, Eva Mendes, Dane DeHaan, Emory Cohen, Mahershala Ali, and Ray Liotta rounding out a stellar cast in smaller roles.
12. 20TH CENTURY WOMEN
Somehow I ended up with quite a few male-centric coming-of-age tales on this list. Mike Mills’ undersung follow-up to the acclaimed Beginners is another, but the boy protagonist takes a backseat to three dynamic women in his life, played by Annette Bening, Elle Fanning, and Greta Gerwig. If that’s not enough to hook you, that’s your problem.
Also Streaming on Netflix and Highly Recommended: A Single Man, A Most Violent Year, Rosemary’s Baby, Pan’s Labyrinth, Taxi Driver, Tootsie, Magnolia, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Molly’s Game, Y Tu Mama Tambien, The First Wives Club, There Will Be Blood