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The 25 best movies to watch on Netflix: December 2021


What’s the best movie I can watch on Netflix? We’ve all asked ourselves the question, only to spend the next 15 minutes scrolling through the streaming service’s oddly specific genre menus, and getting overwhelmed by the constantly shifting trend menus. Netflix’s huge catalogue of movies, combined with its inscrutable recommendations algorithm, can make finding something to watch feel more like a chore than a way to unwind when really what you want are the good movies. No… the best movies.

We’re here to help. For those suffering from choice paralysis in September, we’ve narrowed down your options to 25 of our favorite current movies on the platform. These run the gamut from taut thrillers to eccentric comedies to newly minted classics. We’ll be updating this list monthly as Netflix cycles movies in and out of its library, so be sure to check back next time you’re stuck in front of the Netflix home screen.


21 Jump Street

Jonah Hill, left, and Channing Tatum in 21 Jump Street

Image: Scott Garfield / Columbia Pictures

Based on the 1987 TV series of the same name, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s 2012 buddy cop comedy 21 Jump Street stars Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum as Morton Schmidt and Greg Jenko, two high school classmates from radically different social circles who befriend one another later in life as police academy cadets. After a humiliating screw up, the pair are sent undercover to pose as high school students in order to find the source of an illegal synthetic drug. Accidentally mixing up their identities, Morton and Greg get a taste of what life was like for one another back when they were in school, all while getting into all types of shenanigans and shootouts. Acutely self-aware and frequently hilarious, 21 Jump Street is a comedy reboot done well. —Toussaint Egan


At Eternity’s Gate

Willem Dafoe as Vincent Van Gogh in At Eternity’s Gate

Photo: Lionsgate Home Entertainment

Julian Schnabel’s 2018 biographical drama stars Willem Dafoe as Vincent van Gogh, following the late Impressionist master in the final years of his life as he struggles with aspersions towards his artistic career and ability as well as his own tortured psyche. Named for van Gogh’s 1890 painting, At Eternity’s Gate is a dreamlike work of art, diving into the painter’s point of view as the picture violently spasms and shakes as his life becomes increasingly more dire. Dafoe’s performance was celebrated at the time of the film’s release, earning him his fourth Oscar nomination at the 91st Academy Awards. —TE



The Burial of Kojo

Esi (Cynthia Dankwa) standing under a shower of sparklers holding an umbrella in The Burial of Kojo.

Image: Ofoe Amegavoe / Array Releasing

If you were a fan of either 2012’s Beasts of the Southern Wild or 2020’s Night of the Kings, you’ll love The Burial of Kojo. The directorial debut of musician Blitz Bazawule and filmed entirely in Ghana, the mythic drama stars Cynthia Dankwa as Esi, a young girl recounting the story of her childhood and the tumultuous relationship between her father Kojo (Joseph Otsiman) and her uncle Kwabena. When her father goes missing, Esi embarks on a journey to an otherworldly plane of existence where she must contend with a powerful creature known only as the Crow in order to rescue him. Narrated by actress Ama K. Abebrese, The Burial of Kojo is a stunning dream-like odyssey told with evocative visuals, richly lit colors, and captivatingly somber performances. —TE


Cloud Atlas

Zachry (Tom Hanks) clutching a child to him while surrounded by marauders in Cloud Atlas.

Image: Warner Bros. Pictures

Cloud Atlas offers the best hint at what to tonally expect from a Matrix sequel in the year 2021, aside from The Wachowskis’ Netflix sci-fi drama Sense8. Adapted from David Mitchell’s 2004 novel of the same name, the epic sci-fi odyssey charts the story of several characters from the 1900s to the middle of the 21st century as they attempt to grapple with the challenges of their respective eras and find meaning in their lives. Starring an ensemble cast including Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Ben Whishaw, Doona Bae, Susan Sarandon, and more, the film is a cofounding, ambitious, and at times deeply moving story with an “anything goes” attitude that equally results in some of the most inspired scenes and questionable directorial decisions the Wachowskis have ever produced in their careers. From the looks of the trailer, if you want to brace yourself for the kind of wild cinematic experimentation you’re likely to find in The Matrix Resurrections, then Cloud Atlas will point the way. —TE


The Edge of Seventeen

Nadine (Steinfeld) does the human version of the shrugging kaomoji.

Photo: STX Entertainment

Hawkeye star Hailee Steinfeld stars in the 2016 comedy-drama The Edge of Seventeen as Nadine Franklin, a high school junior with a tumultuous home life exacerbated by the death of her father. Things only get worse when her best friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) begins hooking up with her older brother Darian (Blake Jenner), driving a wedge between them. Exasperated with her life, Nadine finds herself leaning on the support of her teacher Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson) in order to navigate the challenges of growing up. Quirky, slightly morose, and deeply earnest, The Edge of Seventeen is a solid coming-of-age story powered by great performances on part of Steinfeld and Harrelson. —TE


Fast Color

Ruth (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and her daughter Lila (Saniyya Sidney) manifesting their powers in Fast Color.

Image: Lionsgate

Julia Hart’s 2018 superhero drama Fast Color stars Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Black Mirror, Loki) as Ruth, a homeless wanderer with inexplicable powers who returns to her family home after years of hiding from the police. Reunited with her mother Bo (Lorraine Toussaint) and her young daughter Lila (Saniyya Sidney), who both possess the same powers as her, Ruth attempts to regain control over her abilities and reconcile with Lila, all while alluding the authorities who seek to capture and study her. As we wrote back in our review, Fast Color is less a “superhero” film as it is an intimate family drama set in a speculative universe à la 2016’s Midnight Special. The spectacle on display is not the manifestation of Ruth’s powers, but in the masterful trio of performances at its center combining to create a story as poignant as it is exhilarating. —TE


The Florida Project

willem dafoe and brooklynn prince

Image: A24 Films

Central Florida is a weird place to be a kid from a poor family. You grow up in the shadow of corporate dreamlands, where people from around the world come to live out a fantasy of a weekend at the “happiest” places on Earth, fueled by workers who historically have made an average of $10 an hour. Directed by Sean Baker, The Florida Project is one small story set in this shadow, about a six-year-old girl named Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) who lives in a Kissimmee motel called The Magic Castle with her mother Halley (Bria Vinaite), who, trying to make ends meet, often leaves Moonee to her own devices, and the reluctant supervision of motel manager Bobby (Willem Defoe). The Florida Project is one of the best stories about Central Florida and Walt Disney World, a story about childlike wonder and joy a stone’s throw away from its monolithic commercialization, and the economic hardship that keeps the monied dreams of tourists afloat. —Joshua Rivera


Identity

Image: Columbia Pictures

If you’re up for an eerie, psychological ensemble slasher with grimy cinematography à la Seven or Fight Club, director James Mangold’s 2003 horror movie Identity is just the film for you. Based loosely on Agatha Christie’s novel “And Then There Were None,” Identity follows ten strangers who, stranded at a Nevada motel during a violent storm, find themselves terrorized by a mysterious killer. As the story unfolds however, Identity reveals itself to be another story entirely; one which raises the stakes as the questions of what these strangers share in common and why their respective paths brought them together in the first place comes into focus. With terrific leading performances by John Cusack, Ray Liotta, and Amanda Peet, Identity is a solid early-aught horror flick with a twist as bonkers as it is entertaining. No spoilers. Just go watch it. —TE


It Follows

It Follows - Jay Height (Maika Monroe) in swimming pool

Radius-TWC

David Robert Mitchell’s breakout supernatural horror film It Follows centers on a young teenager Jay (Maika Monroe) who, after a strange sexual encounter, finds herself stalked by a nightmarish entity that no-one else but her can see that intends to kill her. In order to stave off death, Jay and her friends must stay a step ahead of the creature while attempting to find a means of defeating it, or else resort to passing the curse on to another hapless unassuming victim herself. With a terrific score provided by Hyper Light Drifter composer Richard Vreeland (aka Disasterpeace), It Follows is a memorable, unique, and entertaining teen horror drama that flips the script on the genre’s traditionally puritanical framing of sexuality with terrific results. —TE


Looper

Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Seth (Paul Dano) in Looper

Image: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Rian Johnson’s sci-fi noir action-thriller Looper follows the story of Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a hitman working for a crime syndicate in the year 2044 who specializes in killing people his employers send back in time from the future. In exchange for his services, Joe is offered the opportunity to retire provided that he close his own “loop” by executing his future self (Bruce Willis). When his future self overpowers him and sets off on his own mysterious mission, Joe must track himself down and close his loop before his employers opt to kill both of them to cover the whole mess up. From there, it only gets more complicated. Filled with exciting chase sequences, exhilarating gunfights, a memorable score by composer Nathan Johnson, and some frankly bizarre makeup designed to make Joseph Gordon-Levitt look like a younger Bruce Willis, Looper is a fascinating and thoroughly entertaining action movie with a heart as big as the ideas that power it. —TE


Middle of Nowhere

Omari Hardwick and Emayatzy Corinealdi in Middle of Nowhere.

Image: Participant Media

Ava DuVernay’s 2012 drama Middle of Nowhere centers on the story of Ruby (Emayatzy Corinealdi), a nurse living in Compton, California separated from her husband Derek (Omari Hardwick) who has been arrested and sentenced to eight years in prison. While regularly visiting Derek and attempting to negotiate his parole, Ruby meets Brian (David Oyelowo), a bus driver whom she eventually pursues a romantic relationship with. As she struggles to reconcile her growing attraction to Brian with her lingering attachment to Derek, new discoveries are brought to light that force Ruby to reckon with the consequences of both her and her husband’s choices as she attempts to move towards an uncertain future. Beautiful, evocative, and thoroughly heart wrenching, Middle of Nowhere is a stirring portrait of finding truth in love and vice-versa. —TE


Moneyball

Brad Pitt in Moneyball.

Image: Columbia Pictures

Bennet Miller’s sports biopic Moneyball takes a staid premise, that of sports manager using statistical analysis to assemble an all-star baseball team, and turns it into an electrifying drama playing and defying the odds. That Miller manages to do this is owed in no small part to Brad Pitt’s charismatic leading performance as Billy Beane coupled alongside Jonah Hill as math whiz Peter Brand. Bobby Kotick cameo aside, this film’s a winner through and through. —TE


The Nightingale

Clare (Aisling Franciosi) racing through a forest and touting a rifle in The Nightingale.

Image: IFC Films/Shout! Factory

Set in 1825 during the British colonization of Australia, Director Jennifer Kent’s (The Babadook) period drama The Nightingale stars Aisling Franciosi (The Fall) as Clare, a young Irish convict who serves her 7-year sentence only for her abusive master Lt. Hawkins (Sam Claflin) to refuse to release her. After being subjected to a horrific act of sexual violence at the hands of her master and his officers, and with no hope of justice served on part of the British authorities against their own, Clare embarks on a relentless chase through the Tasmanian wilderness to exact her revenge on Hawkins when he leaves to take up a captain position up north. Known for its extreme historically accurate depictions of rape, murder, and racism perpetuated by British settlers against the indigenous people of Australia, The Nightingale is an visually striking and emotionally enthralling tale of revenge conveyed through deft performances, striking cinematography, and unflinching harshness. —TE


The Paper Tigers

Ron Yuan and Ray Hopper in The Paper Tigers

Photo: Well Go USA Entertainment

Quoc Bao Tran’s Kung-fu action comedy stars Alain Uy, Ron Yuan (Mulan), and Mykel Shannon Jenkins as the eponymous Paper Tigers: three former martial arts prodigies who, after a lifetime of strenuous training and hard fighting, have grown into beleaguered middle-aged nobodies. But when their master is murdered, the three swear an oath to avenge his memory and bring his killer to justice. If that sounds serious, please know this falls into the Apatowian camp of Dumb Man comedy. —TE


Passing

Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson in Passing

Photo: Netflix

Based on Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel, actor Rebecca Hall’s directorial debut stars Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga as Irene and Clare, two childhood friends who reunite in adulthood having been radically affected by their respective lived experiences as African-American woman. While Irene (Thompson) lives as a Black woman, Clare’s lighter skin allows her to “pass” for a white woman, escaping and inadvertently enforcing the prejudices of her time. As their rekindled friendship begins to strain under the weight of their shared secret, both must reckon with challenges that come with performance and essence of their respective identities. Shot in exquisite black-and-white — which quickly goes from obvious metaphor to integral lens — Hall charts the course of two women with a deep sense of psychology. A million movies have been shot around New York, and yet Passing discovers an entirely new corner of the world in its streets.


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