Your guide to a better future
A host of new movies drop this week, including Guy Ritchie’s The Gentlemen.
Entertainment Editor, Australia
Jennifer Bisset writes about film and TV for CNET
has an extensive library of movies, and as each week brings new content, it becomes an exercise of sifting through the best of the bunch.
To cut time, you’ll find highlights of new content below, as well as CNET’s full list of best movie originals on Netflix.
Get ready for a big week! The turn of the month brings a host of new movies. Here are this week’s highlights.
At time of writing, these films all score at least 70 on Metacritic.
From Netflix’s impressive stash of international films comes Spanish sci-fi horror The Platform. Its high-concept story centers on a tower that delivers food to people on each of its many levels via a platform. Those at the top snag the best and most abundant spread, which is devoured as the platform lowers down the levels. Social commentary rings throughout this dystopian thriller, which takes shocking, occasionally gruesome turns all the way to the bottom.
This YA movie tells the story of Ellie Chu, a shy Asian American discovering her sexuality in the remote town of Squahamish. A straight-A yet friendless student who has a side-hustle writing papers for her classmates, Ellie helps footballer Paul Munsky write a love letter to Aster Flores. But it turns out Aster is perfect for Ellie instead. A story of self-acceptance told with a delicate touch, The Half of It is a joy.
The Incredible Jessica James introduces a delightfully self-possessed main character played by an equally delightful Jessica Williams. The confident and independent Jessica James goes on a blind date where she ends up talking about nothing but her ex. A fresh take on the breakup movie with an empowering lead, this is an easy hit for an entertaining night in.
One of the best family movies on Netflix. From some of the same people who made Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse comes this adventure to save the world involving Mom, Dad, the kids and their slobbery, bug-eyed dog. But amid the robot apocalypse, led by Olivia Colman’s sinister Siri, really The Mitchells vs. the Machines is about a strained relationship between movie-loving daughter Katie and her technophobe father. The technology-inept parent gags are rife, the colors frenetic and the character growth moving. A near-perfect package with the timeless message that embracing your weirdness is a superpower.
This award-winning French film begins with a severed hand escaping a refrigerator in a laboratory and embarking on a Paris-wide search for the rest of its body. What an opening! With a few flashbacks and elegant animation, this strange, satisfying story delves into loss, both physical and emotional, in the most poetic of ways.
2017’s Okja comes from Parasite director Bong Joon-ho — which should be incentive enough to watch it. Part cheeky dark comedy, part surreal environmental thriller, Okja follows a young South Korean farmer girl whose pet pal is a genetically enhanced super-pig. But Okja is the target of a big corporation that wants her delicious flesh. With an English supporting cast including the likes of Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal, Okja sucks you in with its sweetness before showing you a distressing close-up of the meat industry.
Spike Lee’s fierce war drama follows a group of aging Vietnam War veterans who return to the country in search of the remains of their squad leader — as well as buried treasure. With a frenzied energy coursing through it, Da 5 Bloods gives you a look at the Vietnam War through Black experiences, delivering an all-too-timely critique of racism and warfare.
Spanning the lives of its mobsters over multiple decades, The Irishman pulls off a 3-and-a-half-hour crime saga. But don’t worry — you can break up this tour de force if you need to. Always clever and entertaining, with Martin Scorsese favorites Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci commanding the screen, The Irishman creeps up on you, offering a haunting look at aging mobsters and the havoc they wreak.
Director Cary Joji Fukunaga gives you a sobering look at the life of a boy who becomes a child soldier in a West African country embroiled in civil war. Idris Elba stars as the ruthless Commandant along with the astonishing Abraham Attah as the young Agu. A confronting yet quietly hopeful snapshot of war from a human perspective, Beasts of No Nation needs to be on your radar if it isn’t already.
The title of this comedy-drama might sound familiar, but its focus is an unconventional tale. The Forty-Year-Old Version follows Radha, a playwright and teacher who finds herself drawn to the forgotten passion of her youth: rapping. Inspired by writer, director and star Radha Blank’s real life, this beautiful diary of a struggling artist will inspire and hit home, with relatable themes of failure and unfulfilled potential.
Tennis-playing buddies Michael (Mark Duplass) and Andy (Ray Romano) receive devastating news: Michael has terminal stomach cancer. Struggling to let go of his dying friend, Andy joins Michael’s road trip in search of medication to end things before they get too painful. Folding comedy into melancholy, Paddleton eases the touching friendship at its core into deftly-affecting places.
Eddie Murphy returned from his acting break with a glorious performance as Rudy Ray Moore, a comedian who played a character called Dolemite in stand-up routines and blaxploitation films from the ’70s. Dolemite Is My Name follows Moore from his job at a record store to the big screen. Tracking Moore’s rise to fame and its bizarre and enthralling turns, Dolemite Is My Name does justice to both Moore’s and Murphy’s talents.
Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn starring in a comedy-drama with something to say about modern marriage? Private Life is a unique and relatable slice of a New York middle-age couple’s struggles with different avenues to have a child. But because Hahn and Giamatti are in it, it sparkles with wit and charm. Add Kayli Carter to the mix as Sadie, a college dropout, and you have another layer to this compelling movie about the unpredictability of heading into a new stage of life.
Jake Johnson co-writes this comedy from prolific indie director Joe Swanberg (he was behind the Netflix anthology TV series Easy as well). Win It All follows Eddie, a gambling addict who agrees to stash a duffel bag of cash for a local thug heading to prison. Making one of many questionable decisions, Eddie dips into the funds. If you’re a fan of simple, grounded storytelling with a focus on character, Win It All is a delight that brings out Johnson’s humor and charisma.
The Meyerowitz Stories is a bittersweet comedy-drama told through Noah Baumbach’s grounded lens. The titular stories concern dysfunctional adult siblings, played by Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller, trying to live in the shadow of their father. An effervescent cast, including Dustin Hoffman, play these intelligent, albeit miserable, characters as they weave their poignant tales.
This indie gem might have flown under the radar, so if you’re looking for a modern romcom overflowing with charm, definitely give Tramps a watch. Callum Turner and Grace Van Patten star as Danny and Ellie, a sincere good kid and a streetwise girl who attempt to carry out a shady deal for a little cash. Tightly scripted and deftly avoiding hackneyed territory, Tramps will effortlessly win your heart.
Vampires vs. the Bronx is a unique comedy-horror in more ways than one. Set in the New York borough of the Bronx, it follows young Miguel Martinez, a big-hearted kid helping to raise money for his struggling local bodega. But it’s not just new designer clothing stores threatening to move in: Creepy pale residents with a taste for blood are eating up people and their properties. A commentary on gentrification with goofy charm, twists and thrills, Vampires vs. the Bronx is a fresh, entertaining spin on the genre.
His House is a horror flick that, yep, hits close to home. Revealing its supernatural evils through a harrowing human story, it follows Bol and Rial, a refugee couple from Sudan, who struggle to adapt to their new life in an English town. Don’t expect straightforward jump scares — His House plays into the psychological specters of the past, adding even more corridors of torment. A heartrending, powerful piece.
This smart psychological horror is partially drawn from co-writer Isa Mazzei’s experiences as a camgirl (or webcam model). Yet Cam is no documentary, following Alice Ackerman, a young camgirl who one day discovers an exact replica of herself has taken over her show. This unique thriller flashing red with the threat of technology is an excellent feature to hit play on.
One of the more successful Stephen King adaptations, this horror drama based on the novella 1922 is a slow burn with a mesmerizing performance at its core. Thomas Jane, who you’ll also know from Boogie Nights and 2004’s The Punisher, gives one of his career best performances as the ever proud Wilfred James, a farmer who makes the totally wise decision to murder his wife with the help of their teenage son. The consequences are harrowing on multiple levels (if you don’t like rats, you really won’t like rats after this).
If you were mesmerized by The Haunting of Hill House, then Mike Flanagan’s adaptation of Stephen King novel Gerald’s Game is a must-watch. A couple goes on holiday at an isolated lake house, where one thing leads to another… and Carla Gugino’s Jessie ends up handcuffed to the bed with no visible escape. Gugino puts in an immense performance, packing out the enclosed bedroom setting. Expect narratively and emotionally satisfying conclusions, with melancholy-suffused horror that surges into quiet triumph for its haunted characters.
More than a decade after her previous film, Bright Star, extraordinary filmmaker Jane Campion has unfolded the director’s chair again to oversee The Power of the Dog. She ended up winning an Oscar, so it was a good move. The Western centers on Phil Burbank, a domineering rancher who uses the power of toxic masculinity to have his way, mocking his brother for falling in love. The Power of the Dog is a mesmeric exercise in the subtle shifts of emotion and power in relationships. Benedict Cumberbatch, Jesse Plemons and Kirsten Dunst are immense, helping to bring Campion’s masterful vision to life.
Tom Hanks in a Western directed by Jason Bourne’s Paul Greengrass. Enjoy Hanks going full Mandalorian single dad mode as Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a Civil War veteran who discovers a young girl years after she was captured by Native Americans as a baby. In between helping to return her to her family, he does his usual job of traveling to towns and reading newspapers for a small fee. Don’t expect high-octane action: This road movie is fueled more by character development and the beautiful views. Still, you’ll want to settle in for a comforting ride with pure sympathetic Hanks at the steering wheel.
The Coen Brothers kick up the western dust with an anthology film that gives you six vignettes all set on the American frontier. One of them is about the titular Buster Scruggs, a chipper singing cowboy who casually sets off a shoot-up in a cantina. But there’s a dark twist that keeps you on your toes. Sewing the rest of its stories together with a constant black humor, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a Coen Brothers winner.
Rebecca Hall makes her directorial debut in magnificent fashion with her adaptation of Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel Passing. It tells the story of two light-skinned Black women, one of whom chooses to “pass” as white. Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga embody the duality at the heart of this delicate story, shot in black and white. Gracefully handled, Passing is a tender portrait revealing powerful psychological depths.
Andrew Garfield takes the spotlight for this biographical musical drama about Jonathan Larson, the late composer behind Rent and Tick, Tick… Boom! The movie, helmed by Lin-Manuel Miranda in his directorial debut, follows Larson’s career and the time pressure he feels to leave a lasting impression. With joy-inducing music, a meaningful narrative about the creative process and a passionate performance from Garfield as Larson, Tick, Tick… Boom! is a graceful and feel-good tribute.
This fine British drama excavates a whole lot of buried treasure with a distinguished cast in Carey Mulligan, Ralph Fiennes, Lily James and Johnny Flynn. It’s based on the true events around the 1939 excavation of Sutton Hoo, yielding a priceless trove of Anglo-Saxon artifacts hidden in a burial ship. Romantic, intellectual and moving, The Dig is a full sweep of elegance.
The Boys in the Band sets a new stage for an ensemble cast who all performed the classic play-by-the-same-name’s 2018 Broadway revival. Among them, Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto and Matt Bomer. The movie brings new perspectives to a birthday party celebrated by a group of gay men in 1968 New York City. The party takes an unexpected turn when a visitor from the host’s past calls in. With a cast that knows how to play off each other and compelling themes such as self-loathing and internalized homophobia, The Boys in the Band is a thought-provoking, engaging drama.
A black-and-white David Fincher tale about the unsung screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz who helped Orson Welles write Citizen Kane. Step back into Old Hollywood, with beautiful cinematography and take in the behind-the-scenes of how studio systems functioned in a different time. Gary Oldman and Amanda Seyfried are among the exceptional cast of this biographical drama filled with the lightness and darkness of its hero’s life.
An Aaron Sorkin drama based on a true story? The Trial of the Chicago 7 lives up to its pedigree, following the real-life trial of a group of anti-Vietnam War protestors charged with conspiracy to incite riots. With a stellar ensemble cast, including Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, The Trial of the Chicago 7 is both topical and full of compelling theatrical energy.
This sports drama from 2019 marked the second occasion director Steven Soderbergh used an iPhone to shoot a feature film (the first was 2018’s Unsane). High Flying Bird tells the story of a sports agent facing the ax unless he pulls off a company-saving plan in 72 hours. Capturing the high tensions of professional sports through a unique shooting style, High Flying Bird is a fascinating piece put together with expert direction, editing and performances.
A movie about divorce might not sound like the best viewing experience, but Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story is a journey you’ll want to take. Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver give two of the best performances of their careers as Nicole and Charlie, a couple who embark on the emotionally and logistically complicated legal processes involved in prying a partnership apart. Painted with an emotional complexity that includes poignantly funny moments along with the painful ones, this is happy-sad at its best.
Set primarily in Vatican City, this biographical drama follows Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio in the aftermath of the Vatican leaks scandal. It’s as fascinating as it sounds. The Two Popes carves up a slice of real-life drama with a first-class two-hander featuring Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins.
Alfonso Cuaron’s semi-autobiographical snapshot of the Colonia Roma neighborhood of Mexico City tells a small story with staggering prowess. Let Cuaron steer you through the ups and downs of a live-in housekeeper of a middle-class family. His lens captures intricately beautiful scenes in an album that quietly envelopes you with wonder and grace.
This Italian film has the seal of approval from Bong Joon-ho, so let’s listen to the Oscar-winning director of Parasite and add it to this list. Written and directed by Alice Rohrwacher, Happy as Lazzaro is set in the ’70s on a tobacco farm, where good-hearted young peasant Lazzaro dutifully works. When a nobleman convinces him to help him fake his own kidnapping, a story of friendship, innocence and social commentary unfolds. A gorgeously shot, cinematic fairytale.
This elegant Spanish film will steep you in its rich imagery and phenomenally good performances from its two leads. Susi Sánchez and Bárbara Lennie star as Anabel and Chiara respectively, an estranged mother and daughter who reunite for reasons that aren’t as clear as they first seem. The precision of the filmmaking here is worthy of soaking up for those who are partial to deliberately paced meditations on pain, love and loss. Masterful.
Maggie Gyllenhaal gives a career best performance in The Kindergarten Teacher, a drama about, yep, a kindergarten teacher. Lisa is dissatisfied with her own life, which leads her to make some questionable decisions regarding one of her young students. When Jimmy exhibits child prodigy levels of poetry writing talent, Lisa may or may not take credit for it. The Kindergarten Teacher’s slightly disturbing character study might leave you feeling conflicted, but there’s no question about Gyllenhaal’s mesmerizing performance.
Mudbound gives you a historical look at class struggle through the lens of a Black veteran and a white veteran who both still have one foot stuck in World War II. Dealing with PTSD and racism in the Mississippi Delta, with a cast that includes Garrett Hedlund and Jason Mitchell, Mudbound’s tempest will rivet you to the spot.
A psychological thriller that dives deep into the surreal. I’m Thinking of Ending Things definitely won’t be for everyone, but it connects you to the frustrations of the young woman (Jessie Buckley) at its heart, who grapples with breaking off her seven-week-relationship with her boyfriend Jake (Jesse Plemons). While it overstays its welcome a little, I’m Thinking of Ending Things always keeps you on your toes, with atmospheric cinematography and strong performances from Toni Collette and David Thewlis as Jake’s fairly odd parents. Fans of director-writer Charlie Kaufman will be pleased.
Two movies named The Call came out in 2020. Watch the South Korean one, a time travel thriller revolving around, yep, a phone call. Twenty-eight-year-old Seo-yeon finds a phone buried in a closet in her childhood home. It rings — and the caller, it turns out, is living in the same house 20 years earlier. Twists right up to the final moment, plus a wild cat-and-mouse chase that alters the past and present make this a must-watch.
This taut thriller set in the remote Scottish Highlands is far from an idyllic getaway. Prepare for a full-on nerve-wringing nightmare that its protagonists are desperate to wake up from. Vaughn and Marcus set out on a lads’ weekend hunting trip, but after a night of drinking, they find themselves facing events they never could have planned for. Calibre lives up to its name, delivering a slick package of grim, gripping drama. Let the full force of this one wallop you.
The fifth and latest film on Angelina Jolie’s directing CV turned out to be her best. Based on Cambodian author and human rights activist Loung Ung’s memoir, the biographical thriller recounts the horrors Ung suffered as a child under the rule of the deadly Khmer Rouge. With an empathetic lens framing a shocking story from the perspective of a child, First They Killed My Father is a unique war movie made with control and finesse.
If you’ve had a bad day, this might be the movie for you. When the police refuse to help with a robbery, nursing assistant Ruth and her weird neighbor Tony take matters into their own hands. I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore spots the idiosyncrasies of everyday life, before escalating its story into dark places with even darker humor. With a touch of Coen Brothers’ flair, its perfectly packed 96 minutes will leave you surprisingly emotional.
Your guide to a better future