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Great Films to Stream on Netflix Tonight

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by Nicholas Gordon (subscribe)
Freelance writer based in Sydney.
Published October 28th 2020
5 exceptional, recent-ish movies
Scrolling through Netflix's catalogue can often be mind-numbing - the array of things to watch on the streaming service is large and overwhelming. And there is much dross. But look close enough and you'll see highlights. Here are five films of outstanding quality available to watch now on Netflix. A note too that if any of these sound good to you, watch sooner rather than later, as films disappear from Netflix with little warning.

La La Land (2016)

The thing about La La Land is that people really like it or they really don't. The film is strangely divisive, garnering five-star reviews and hate articles in equal measure. The musical follows jazz pianist Sebastian (played by Ryan Gosling) who is fairly unsuccessful, doesn't want to be a sellout, and dreams of opening his own club. He meets actress Mia (Emma Stone), who is fairly unsuccessful, works in a coffee shop, and fruitlessly attends auditions. Sebastian and Mia meet, go walking and are soon dancing atop the Hollywood Hills. The relationship carries on as both pursue their creative dreams. Damian Chazelle's film is an old-school love letter to a past Hollywood, with its dazzling choreography and catchy tunes. You could make the argument that it's largely style over substance, but when it's such spectacular style, who really cares?

Call Me By Your Name (2017)

Set in Northern Italy, with the verdant countryside splashed beatifically over the screen, Call Me By Your Name unfurls over the course of the summer of 1983. The film follows 17-year-old Elio (Timothee Chalamet) who is holidaying at his family's villa with his mother and father. The family is cultured and liberal, speaking many different languages and devoting themselves to academic pursuits. Elio's father is a researcher of antiquities and each summer invites a visiting scholar to assist him at the villa. Enter American doctoral student Oliver (Armie Hammer). Elio and Oliver seem to clash initially, like ideologically opposed roommates but it's all a front and soon an attraction builds between the pair. Directed by Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love and A Bigger Splash), Call Me By Your Name is unhurried, beautiful and unforgettable.

Read my full review of Call Me By Your Name.

Spotlight (2015)

The best movie about journalism since All the President's Men, Spotlight tells the astonishing story of how investigative journalists at the Boston Globe uncovered the Catholic Church's history of covering up sexual abuse. The newspaper's investigative unit, called Spotlight, is spurred into action by new editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber). Editor of Spotlight Robby Robinson (Michael Keaton), himself friendly with many Boston Catholic elites, fans his reporters out across the city. Results are slow, but persistent digging soon turns it all up: sexual abuse by clergy was rampant and was covered up at every possible chance by church officials. Spotlight manages to tell the horrifying story carefully and calmly without hype. Superb performances by Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Brian d'Arcy James as reporters, and Stanley Tucci as a lawyer representing sexual abuse survivors, make this a powerful and entertaining drama with more suspense than most thrillers.

Marriage Story (2019)

Noah Bambach's film about a marriage disintegrating is sad and joyful and funny - often all in the one scene. The soon-to-be ex-couple are theatre producer Charlie (Adam Driver) and actress Nicole (Scarlett Johansson), who live in New York with their eight-year-old boy Henry (Azhy Robertson). Charlie's on the way up - his play's about to hit Broadway. Nicole, who abandoned the small screen in Los Angeles to act in Charlie's theatre company, is also riding success, snaring a lead in a pilot back in LA. This is when the marriage falters. Counsellors offer little help and Nicole takes Henry out to LA, forcing Charlie to commute between the coasts. Nicole hires a defence lawyer (a wonderful Laura Dern) and suggests Charlie do likewise. After we've all been given a horrifying insight into family law in California, Charlie and Nicole begin trying to figure out the separation, an amicable resolution seemingly impossible. Driver and Johansson are both fantastic in a film that sounds so insubstantial in outline, yet manages to explore so much and be entirely captivating. A must-see.

Moonlight (2016)

Winner of the Best Picture Award at the 2017 Oscars, Moonlight is a moving coming-of-age drama that follows the life of a gay black man named Chiron. First, we see Chiron as a boy, when he is known as 'Little'. He's bullied by other kids and home means a drug-addicted mother and an absent father. Juan (Mahershala Ali), a local drug dealer, takes Chiron under his wing, acting as a father figure. Next, Chiron's a teenager. Again he's an outcast, with little prospects, his sexuality further alienating him from his peers. And that makes the third section of the film even more interesting. Now known as 'Black', Chiron's physical presence has changed dramatically. The spindly boy taunted on the streets is no longer. Directed by Barry Jenkins, what's so remarkable about Moonlight is that initially you get the sense that you've been here before, but instead you're taken somewhere wholly different, to a story that is intense and profound, told picture perfectly, every scene worth your attention.
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Why? For the best films on Netflix right now
When: Now
Where: Your living room
Cost: $10.99 to $19.99 per month
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