We’ll continue to churn out our Best Of lists all through this week and next, but this one is very specific: What are the 10 Best Movies Released in 2016 that are currently on Netflix? It’s the list of movies for people who want to stay current, but never want to leave their home and pay extra to rent a film.
Sing Street — Set in 1985 Dublin, Sing Street plays like Once meets Billy Elliot (and The Commitments). Sing Street is a bittersweet celebration of youth and that sweet spot where life’s possibilities seems infinite and terrifying all at once. Director John Carney builds his story from a familiar foundation, then uses the imagination of its heroes to grow into fantasy sequences, musical numbers, and a rousing finale that will make you want to stand up and cheer.
Captain America: Civil War — After all is said and done, it’s a great film filled with great performances and amazing, exciting action sequences. The story is dense and complex and while it sometimes staggers under its weight, in the end it comes out strong. Its action is fast and spectacular, but never overwhelming or edited into incomprehensibility. There’s a nice mix of tightly-shot, violently intimate, almost Daredevil-esque fight scenes, as well as large-scale punchy-smashy-shooty superhero battle royals. By leaving out the most powerful characters (Thor and Hulk), the Russos are able to create much more even matchups and it feels less like city-destroying devastation and more like superpowered fisticuffs. Sure, there are times when airplanes are being torn in half, but even then it never feels like too much. Perhaps most importantly is that even though its themes are complicated, and its tone is often grim, there is a remarkable amount of joy to be found in Civil War. Its action is harrowing, its storyline labyrinthine, but damn it, it’s also just fucking fun, and that’s what makes it my kind of superhero movie, and one of the best in Marvel’s franchise.
Bridget Jones’ Baby (Watch Here) — Bridget Jones’s Baby may not transcend its genre in the way that the original— an honest classic— did. But if you’ve already been looking forward to a date or a boozy fun ladies’ night with this movie, it won’t disappoint. And if you’re being dragged along to one of those events, you can breathe easier. Because this is not the thing you expected to have to suffer through. It won’t be your new favorite movie, but it’s fun, smart, and Colin Firth has a LOT of screentime. Bonus.
Pete’s Dragon — There’s nothing particularly original or surprising about Pete’s Dragon except in the way it tugs at heartstrings. It’s potent, capable of reducing nearly anyone to sobs, not out of sadness, but out of appreciation for the extraordinary, enchanting friendship between a wide-eyed boy and the dragon who protects him. While Stranger Things has been able to recapture much of the Amblin magic and translate it into television, Pete’s Dragon is the closest thing to the old Steven Spielberg going. You won’t find a sweeter movie anytime soon.
Don’t Think Twice — Don’t Think Twice is a hard movie to watch at times, with these moments that feel so real and true that you squirm, feeling like you should not be watching something so intimately uncomfortable. But Mike Birbiglia’s script smartly does not wallow in these moments of discomfort, balancing them out with uproariously funny scenes. Both poignant and hilarious, Don’t Think Twice is similar to a Judd Apatow film in that way, except that both the emotional and comedic beats feel more realistic than even the best Apatow moments. Fans of improv will love this for the improv scenes alone (which are made up of both scripted and actual improvised moments). But this movie should, and hopefully will be, loved by everyone because Don’t Think Twice is simply a heartbreaking, but hilarious, delight.
Pee Wee’s Big Holiday — It’s been almost thirty one years since Herman’s last big screen romp, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, and nearly 26 since Pee-wee’s Playhouse wrapped. Yet Reubens slides back into his white loafers without missing a step. It helps that the guys hasn’t appeared to age, and thankfully neither has Pee-Wee. He still shies away from the girls who swoon for his bespoke grey suit. He still speaks in that signature silly voice, and proudly spouts impish catchphrases like “Let me let you let me go.” And he’s still a master of willfully childish physical comedy. One long take involving Herman “playing” a balloon to a rapt Amish community may sound like nothing special. But Reubens’ gift for guileless humor makes it giggle-fit hilarious.
White Girl — White Girl is dedicatedly deplorable in its decadence and riveting in its rawness. The cinematography, rich with suffocating close-ups, ratchets up the tension through unforgiving proximity. All past tales of girls lost to the terrible big city instantly imbue the film with dramatic weight. But how Wood plays both out to a uniquely unsettling finale is pioneering, thought provoking, and more than a little haunting.
Zootopia — Sure to speak to kids and grown-ups alike, Zooptopia unfolds a poignant lesson about how prejudice can hurt people, but also how it can be overcome. And it does all this in a wonderfully fun film with big laughs, clever casting (did I mention Kristen Bell has a cameo as a sloth?), and delightful animation that boasts photo-real textures, telling physicality, and undeniable verve. And as a bonus: Zootopia sets up a charismatic critter partnership that could easily carry a thrilling and fun animated franchise I’d actually be happy to see.
Jungle Book — It’s not for little ones because the action sequences are too intense, but that’s exactly what makes it so thrilling for adults. It is a phenomenal film that hews closely to the Rudyard Kipling source material but brings in a few surprises to differentiate it and yet never veers far away from the spirit of the book. It’s engaging from the first frame to the last, and breaks up the intensity with enough humor to keep us from dwelling too much on the terrors of the jungle.
Kung Fu Panda 3 — Although the plot lacks the nuance and depth of the first film, “Kung Fu Panda 3” is nonetheless enjoyable. Directors Jennifer Yuh and Alessandro Carloni have crafted a gorgeous movie out of the bold colors, dazzling blend of animation styles, highly detailed character designs and ambitious action sequences that have made the franchise a worldwide phenomenon.
13th — As theatrical follow-up to her heralded Selma, the advocate/auteur has gathered historians, politicians, authors, and advocates to trace our current epidemic of mass incarceration and institutional prejudice with the judicial system back to the days following the Civil War. The constitutional Amendment for which the doc is named declares that in America, no one shall be subjected to slave labor. But there’s a big loophole that leaves convicted criminals out of that promise. The 13th proposes mass incarceration is a sly form of modern enslavement. Fearlessly, DuVernay digs back into a history written in blood and teargas, reaching into corners of the American experience that white America has the luxury to avert our tender eyes from.
Audrie and Daisy — In 2012, two teenage girls— Daisy Coleman of Maryville, Missouri and Audrie Pott of Saratoga, California— were both sexually assaulted. Coleman, then 14, was raped by the son of a former state representative, while Pott was raped by three boys at a party. Coleman’s rapist was eventually convicted of endangerment of the welfare of a child (a misdemeanor), since he left her passed out in the snow in her front yard, and was sentenced to probation. Pott became the target of widespread harassment online and at school, and committed suicide later that year. This is that story, and while watching the documentary may not change anything, the very least we can do is choose not to turn away.
Amanda Knox — The documentary is eye-opening, not exactly in the way that Making a Murderer and Serial were (although, there is some of that, too), but in investigating the influence the media had on the trial. One of the central characters of the documentary, in fact, is Daily Mail journalist Nick Pisa who brags about how he generated the story based, in part, on unverifiable statements. Pisa had no interest in the truth. He was only interested in his own celebrity. It’s a fascinating and maddening documentary, all the more so because my own previous knowledge of the case proves how effective the media can be in creating the narrative, even when that narrative has no basis in reality. Amanda Knox sets the record straight.
Hush — Currently sporting 100 percent positive critic reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, Hush is a low-budget horror film. There are a few things that make Hush unique, like the deaf-mute protagonist and the story’s conception over a dinner date between the lead actress and the director (Mike Flanagan, Oculus). I’m not going to ruin anything or spoil the movie for those who want to watch it, but if you’re in the mood for a well-acted, less cliche, and somewhat original take on the same old stalker/slasher flick, Hush is for you.
Other People — Other People is a semi-autobiographical film from writer/director Chris Kelly, one of the head writers of Saturday Night Live and a writer/consultant on Broad City. Kelly says it’s “semi-autobiographical,” but what makes Other People so exceptional is that it feels genuine instead of a movie where someone’s experiences are molded into a three-act formula. Reality also means capturing some of the banality of living with someone who is dying, and there’s a lot of that here, but even then, Kelly mixes humor with poignancy. It’s a terrific film, and while it may sound heavy and painful, I found it to be a bittersweet but strangely comforting and relatable experience.
For more movie and television recommendations from Amazon and Netflix, check out our streaming guide.