Adoration (2019)

Adoration (2019)

Memories of Badlands (1973) and The Night of the Hunter (1955) flow through this enigmatic rites-of-passage drama set amid the tranquil scenery of the Ardennes. After a violent incident at a woodsy mental health clinic, a pair of youths escape into the idyllic wilderness. The director is Belgian Fabrice du Welz, known for pushing extreme buttons. Here he reigns in the bloodshed in favour of a dreamlike atmosphere bordering on fairytale.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime (BFI Player’s channel)

All Is Well (2018)

All Is Well (2018)

Eva Trobisch’s feature debut is a masterclass in subtlety that exerts a fascinating grip. Picked up from festivals as a Netflix exclusive, All Is Well centres on a woman who is sexually assaulted by her new boss’s brother-in-law but attempts to continue with her life as if nothing happened. A provocative psychological study, Trobisch’s film might be a bit hidden by your algorithm but it rewards the search. 

Streaming on… Netflix

Get the latest from the BFI

Sign up for BFI news, features, videos and podcasts.

Alphaville (1965)

Alphaville (1965)

In Alphaville, French New Wave firebrand Jean-Luc Godard inventively used the glass and concrete of real Paris locations to render a dystopian future. Pulp movie star Eddie Constantine plays the secret agent who arrives from the ‘Outlands’ into the city of Alphaville, where he’s tasked with tracking down and killing the metropolis’s evil creator, one Dr von Braun. Godard’s vision is a bric-à-brac of ideas borrowed from Orwell, Fritz Lang and the Orpheus films of Jean Cocteau, but his cold-as-steel DIY futurism has left its own long vapour trail of influence. 

Streaming on… Amazon Prime (BFI Player’s channel)

Aquarius (2016)

Aquarius (2016)

Riding high in many best-of-2016 lists, this vibrantly shot Brazilian drama is about a woman determined to cling on to her beloved apartment in a block being aggressively sized up by developers. Sonia Braga is formidable in the lead.

Streaming on… Netflix

Atlantics (2019)

Atlantics (2019)

Mati Diop’s feature debut Atlantics was voted the seventh best film of 2019 in the annual Sight & Sound critics’ poll. It’s a sensual and allusive sideways glance at the migrant crisis, which riffs on Homer’s Odyssey and has some serious genre-bending surprises up its sleeve. Mame Bineta Sane plays Dakar’s modern-day Penelope, eagerly awaiting the return of her boyfriend, who has set out to sea in search of a brighter future.

Streaming on… Netflix

Aurora (2010)

Aurora (2010)

The Death of Mr Lazarescu (also on Netflix) is one of the outstanding films of the 2000s, but don’t overlook this subsequent feature from Romanian New Wave figurehead Cristi Puiu. Running a daunting 3 hours, it’s certainly a more challenging proposition: a crime story told at the molasses-slow pace of ordinary life. We follow Puiu himself, playing an obscurely disgruntled divorcé, on his meanderings around Bucharest, apparently with something violent or even murderous on his mind. Masterfully shot, it becomes grimly absorbing if you can adjust to its tempo.

Streaming on… Netflix

Babylon (1980)

Babylon (1980)

One of the key British films of the 1980s, Babylon is an evocative dive into soundsystem culture in Brixton in the early Thatcher years, following the beleaguered fortunes of a reggae DJ (Aswad’s Brinsley Forde) preparing for an upcoming competition. A great youth movie, and a landmark in depicting Black Britain on film.

Streaming on… Netflix and Amazon Prime

Bernie (2011)

Bernie (2011)

What’s Richard Linklater’s best film? Boyhood? Dazed and Confused? One of the Before trilogy? Guess again…

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

Winning the 1946 Oscar for best picture, William Wyler’s drama took the temperature of the US at the time when American soldiers were returning after the end of the Second World War and bumpily attempting to settle back into civilian life. At nearly 3 hours long, it was on the outer limits of duration for a standalone Hollywood film of the time, but its panorama of small-town America is so finely grained and emotionally affecting that it earns every minute. 

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

Birds of Passage (2018)

Birds of Passage (2018)

Birds of Passage is a decade-spanning crime saga with a completely fresh perspective. From the producer-director team behind the hallucinatory Amazonian odyssey Embrace of the Serpent (2015), Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra, it’s set amid the Wayúu tribe of northern Colombia and shows how malign criminal influences slowly take their toll on a traditional, tribal community. It’s as much of a treat for the senses as Embrace was, but this time in eye-popping colour.

Streaming on… Netflix

Blackhat (2015)

Blackhat (2015)

Chris Hemsworth plays the hacker who is released from prison in order to help Chinese and American authorities track down a shadowy cyber criminal in this exciting tech thriller. It’s the only film that Michael Mann made last decade, but continues his extraordinary latter-day run of crime pictures in which the mechanics of plot are secondary to the thrilling textures of the digital cinematography.

Streaming on… Netflix

The Bounty (1984)

The Bounty (1984)

The third cinematic treatment of the story of the mutiny on HMS Bounty in the late 18th century stars Anthony Hopkins as the tyrannical Captain Bligh, Mel Gibson as lead mutineer Fletcher Christian and boasts early performances from Daniel Day-Lewis and Liam Neeson alongside a veteran turn from Laurence Olivier. It started out as a David Lean project, but Roger Donaldson did an honourable job of finally getting this handsome production on the water.

Streaming on… Netflix

Cairo Station (1958)

Cairo Station (1958)

Netflix would be the last place you’d look for films by Egyptian master Youssef Chahine, but in fact they’ve got 12 of them. The most famous is probably this 77-minute neorealism-infused melodrama. It’s evocatively set amid the bustle of the eponymous interchange, where a disabled newspaper peddler falls obsessively in love with a cold-drinks vendor.

Streaming on… Netflix

Le Cercle rouge (1970)

Le Cercle rouge (1970)

Pound for pound, probably the best of all heist movies. Four men meet during a bare French winter and plan to rob a jewellery shop. 

Streaming on… Amazon Prime (BFI Player’s channel)

La ciénaga (2001)

La ciénaga (2001)

Lucrecia Martel has only made 4 features in 20 years, but she’s earned her place at the top table of international arthouse cinema. It all began with this phenomenal debut, a humid family drama that has all the tightly compressed atmospherics of a good short story. The setting is a fading country estate in north-western Argentina, where the frictions and foibles of a bourgeois family are laid bare.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

City of Gold (1957)

City of Gold (1957)

For a transportive slice of history told in 20 minutes try this Canadian documentary, which won the Palme d’Or for best short film at Cannes in 1957. The city in question is Dawson City in the Yukon Territory, a focal point for the Klondike Gold Rush. Using zooms to bring antique photos to life (in a manner that would later inspire Ken Burns), this evocative journey into the past makes the perfect companion piece to Bill Morrison’s recent feature Dawson City: Frozen Time (2016). 

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

There are half a dozen Spielberg joints on Netflix, but in pole position is this early barnstormer, his first dalliance with extraterrestrials. Coming after the record-breaking success of Jaws (1975), Close Encounters found the young director trading fear for wonder, centring Richard Dreyfuss’s cable-repairman as the ordinary joe caught up in extraordinary circumstances. In a dazzling lightshow, 2 worlds meet. 

Streaming on… Netflix

Cold War (2018)

Cold War (2018)

So immaculately directed is this tale of lovers coming together in postwar Poland that Pawel Pawlikowski was nominated for best director by Oscar voters who, before Parasite came along, generally liked to keep foreign language cinema off in a category of its own. Like his previous film, Ida, Cold War is shot in tactile black and white, which moodily accentuates every amorous gaze and wisp of cigarette smoke.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

Comrades (1986)

Comrades (1986)

With a cast dotted with the likes of Vanessa Redgrave, Keith Allen, Michael Hordern, Barbara Windsor, Imelda Staunton and James Fox, Comrades is the magnum opus of Scottish director Bill Douglas and a comparatively rare attempt to grapple with radical British history on screen. It’s an epic account of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, the farm workers whose deportation to Australia for forming a labour union became a cause célèbre in the 1830s.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

Confidential Report (1955)

Confidential Report (1955)

Also known as Mr. Arkadin, Confidential Report stems from Orson Welles’s period of Hollywood exile in the 1950s, spent cobbling together projects across Europe with whatever finances he could grab. It’s a Citizen Kane-like story about a rich man who hires an ex-con to investigate the mysterious details of his own background. As ever with Welles, this is a mystery-thriller that pops with visual imagination and baroque compositions.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

Creepy (2016)

Creepy (2016)

If you’re a David Fincher fan looking to get over the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, here’s a good place to start. But be warned: you’ll never look at a vacuum storage bag in the same way again. Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s acutely uneasy thriller finds a criminology lecturer and his wife moving to a new neighbourhood in suburban Tokyo, where they become increasingly weirded out by the manner of their neighbour, an antisocial oddball who keeps his family life veiled in secrecy. 

Streaming on… Amazon Prime (BFI Player’s channel)

Dil Se.. (1998)

Dil Se... (1998)

If you want to witness one of the most gobsmacking moments in any modern musical, load up Netflix and skip to the 08:42 mark of this Bollywood political thriller. Shah Rukh Khan’s radio journalist is smitten with a mysterious woman he meets late at night on a lonely railway platform, but she disappears on to a train before he can find out anything about her. Then the needle drops on A.R. Rahman’s Sufi-infused banger ‘Chaiyya Chaiyya’ and we’re suddenly atop the Nilgiri Mountain Railway, winding through green hills as a host of dancers performs an astonishing traintop dance routine.

Streaming on… Netflix and Amazon Prime

Down with Love (2003)

Down with Love (2003)

Renée Zellweger. Ewan McGregor. The most underrated romcom of our millennium. Thank us later.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

8 ½ (1963)

8½ (1963)

Beloved of film directors for the way it orchestrates the pell-mell of a filmmaker’s creative life – the decision-making, the doubts, the whole swarming shebang – this Federico Fellini masterpiece grew out of the creative doldrums that followed the sensational release of his La dolce vita in 1960. Marcello Mastroianni is cast in the role of Fellini’s filmmaker alter-ego Guido Anselmi, around whom a dizzying vision of life in the Italian film world orbits.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

End of the Century (2019)

End of the Century (2019)

This enigmatic Argentinian film should appeal to fans of Weekend (2011), Columbus (2017) or anything along the lines of Richard Linklater’s walking-and-talking ‘Before trilogy’ romances. Yet there’s also something gently cryptic and puzzling about its set-up: 2 men hook up while visiting Barcelona, only for it to dawn on them that they met there before, some 20 years prior.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime (BFI Player’s channel)

The Fabulous Baron Munchausen (1962)

The Fabulous Baron Munchausen (1962)

The tall tales of fictional 18th-century adventurer Baron Munchausen have inspired several films, including Terry Gilliam’s mammoth 1988 version, but this Czechoslovakian production from Karel Zeman is surely definitive. Mixing live action with stylised animation, it features the boastful baron bringing a spaceman back to Earth to introduce him to a sultan’s court during the Ottoman Empire. 

Streaming on… Amazon Prime (BFI Player’s channel)

Falling Leaves (1912)

Falling Leaves (1912)

More than 100 years old, this 12-minute silent film makes for a surprising find on Netflix – you won’t find it by searching Falling Leaves but it’s part of the collection Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers. From the legendary Alice Guy-Blaché, Falling Leaves is about a young girl’s attempt to cure her ailing sister by preventing leaves falling from their garden tree.

Streaming on… Netflix

The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964)

The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964)

Fans of Ridley Scott’s Gladiator should cue up this earlier Roman epic, made at the very end of the era when such super-productions were affordable on life-size sets. Alec Guinness plays Emperor Marcus Aurelius among a star-studded cast also including Sophia Loren, Christopher Plummer, James Mason and Omar Sharif. As epic as they come.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

The 15:17 to Paris (2018)

The 15:17 to Paris (2018)

Clint Eastwood’s The 15:17 to Paris pulled into cinemas to a chorus of damning reviews, but it’s a fascinatingly bold and unique experiment by the ageing legend of American cinema. Dramatising the lives of the 3 Americans who foiled the 2015 Thalys train attack, Eastwood cast the men as themselves as he recreates their rather mundane days spent on holiday in the build-up to the attack. It adds a new wrinkle of docudrama authenticity to his latter-day fixation on American heroism. 

Streaming on… Netflix

Friends with Money (2006)

Friends with Money (2006)

Perpetually underrated, writer-director Nicole Holofcener has a CV full of wryly observed studies of the trappings of middle age, parenthood and female friendship. Netflix also offers her 2018 film The Land of Steady Habits, but she’s closer to her best in this comic ensemble drama from 2006. Jennifer Aniston plays a cash-strapped waitress whose friends – Catherine Keener, Frances McDormand and Joan Cusack – are all now considerably richer than she is.

Streaming on… Netflix

Gerry (2002)

Gerry (2002)

Filmed in Death Valley, California, Gus Van Sant’s defiantly meandering (and occasionally hilarious) Gerry is the ultimate lost-in-the-desert film. Casey Affleck and Matt Damon play 2 friends, both called Gerry, who set out on a hike without food or water and quickly lose all sense of direction or even purpose. Made under the influence of the syrup-slow tracking shots of Hungarian filmmaker Béla Tarr, the results are as spellbinding as a mirage.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

Ghost in the Shell (1995)

Ghost in the Shell (1995)

Set in a 2029 where transhuman modifications have blurred the line between technology and our own bodies, Mamoru Oshii’s anime classic hinges on the terrifying new potential for master hackers to steal into our minds and nervous systems, not just our laptops. Ghost in the Shell tracks the hunt for one such hacker through a gleaming dystopian Tokyo, in an attempt to halt a virus that’s been infecting government officials.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime (BFI Player’s channel)

The Golden Coach (1952)

The Golden Coach (1952)

Scored with Vivaldi favourites, The Golden Coach is set in 18th-century Peru, where various suitors – a nobleman, a bullfighter and a viceroy – court an actress (Anna Magnani) in a visiting theatre company. Shot in vibrant Technicolor, it was the beginning of a trio of theatrically stylised films by Jean Renoir. The results were put on a pedestal by the young directors of the French New Wave, with Jean-Luc Godard calling it one of “5 or 6 films in the history of cinema which one wants to review simply by saying, ‘It is the most beautiful of films’”.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

Hale County This Morning, This Evening (2018)

Hale County This Morning, This Evening (2018)

An impressionistic anthology of moments in the lives of inhabitants of Hale County, Alabama, this mould-breaking documentary is one of the summits of recent non-fiction cinema. RaMell Ross’s film doesn’t advance a story or explicit argument. Instead, over 76 minutes, he weaves a microcosmic vision of Black lives and community in the American south. Its images and emotions leave a lingering impression.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

Happy Old Year (2019)

Happy Old Year (2019)

The ultimate film for disciples of Marie Kondo’s tidying ethos, Happy Old Year centres on a Thai woman moving back to Bangkok from abroad and, aspiring to minimalism, attempting to radically declutter her apartment. But the effort to be ‘out with the old’ puts her on a collision course with her past, as the belongings of her ex-boyfriend dredge up emotional memories. Possessions aren’t so easily parted with.

Streaming on… Netflix

His House (2020)

His House (2020)

The hoary old haunted house subgenre got a fresh lick of paint in this petrifying and politically resonant debut feature from British writer-director Remi Weekes. His House sees a refugee couple from South Sudan given asylum in Britain and taking up gloomy slum housing on the outskirts of London. Strange occurrences and nightmarish visions haunt their attempts to start a new life.

Streaming on… Netflix

Homicide (1991)

Homicide (1991)

An usually contemplative, almost cosmic cop drama, Homicide stars Joe Mantegna as an NYPD detective who is assigned to investigate the murder of the elderly Jewish owner of a candy store. He unravels a shadowy world of antisemitic conspiracy, the discovery of which brings him closer to his own Jewish identity. One of David Mamet’s best.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

House on Haunted Hill (1959)

House on Haunted Hill (1959)

Halloween would be the perfect time to watch this one, but its campy scares will work on any dark night. Vincent Price stars as the eccentric millionaire who invites partygoers to his haunted mansion with the lure of a $10,000 prize if any of them can last the night. Schlockmeister William Castle piles on the chill factor.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

Images (1972)

Images (1972)

A folk horror movie by Robert Altman? Yes, it’s real. In the middle of a period spent banging out such New Hollywood classics as McCabe & Mrs Miller and The Long Goodbye, the maverick director decamped to Ireland to make this bucolic riff on psychodramas like Repulsion and Persona. Susannah York stars as the children’s author beset by hallucinations during her rural retreat.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

Infernal Affairs (2002)

Infernal Affairs (2002)

Nearly 20 years on, this Hong Kong police story looks like a modern classic of the crime genre. Tony Leung stars as the cop who goes undercover to infiltrate a triad gang, while Andy Lau is the mob man playing the same trick in reverse. Martin Scorsese was so impressed that he remade Infernal Affairs as The Departed (2006), winning a best picture Oscar in the process.

Streaming on… Netflix

The Iron Horse (1924)

The Iron Horse (1924)

John Ford’s silent epic was a quantum leap for the western genre. Dramatising the building of America’s first transcontinental railroad, it keeps a large cast of characters in play as it depicts the various obstacles and setbacks faced by the Herculean project. The Iron Horse set Ford on his path as the principle chronicler (and mythologiser) of American history on screen. 

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

Kaili Blues (2015)

Kaili Blues (2016)

This is a film worth taking a chance on. Bi Gan’s trance-like debut layers timeframes as a doctor in southwestern China journeys to his hometown in search of his nephew. Its centrepiece is an extraordinary 40-minute shot that will drop your jaw.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance (1993)

Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance (1993)

The Oka crisis of 1990 saw the Canadian government mobilise the army against a blockaded Mohawk community who were protesting the expansion of a golf course on to First Nations land. This award-winning 1993 documentary by Abenaki filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin helped to counter the prevailing demonisation of the protestors, while offering a vital and immediate chronicle of the confrontation as it unfolded.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

Kicking and Screaming (1995)

Kicking and Screaming (1995)

From Frances Ha to While We’re Young, Noah Baumbach has cornered the market in neurotic hipster movies. Here’s where it all started, his 1995 debut film, revolving around the relationships of a bunch of aimless college friends grappling with their next steps.

Streaming on… Netflix

The Land (1969)

The Land (1969)

One of the jewels in Netflix’s terrific selection of films by Egyptian director Youssef Chahine, The Land is Chahine’s richly detailed adaptation of a novel by Abdel Rahman al-Sharqawi that pits a community of rural peasants against their greedy landlord in a dispute over irrigation rights. But this isn’t a chippy story of underdogs coming together so much as an exploration of how tensions and competing priorities within a group can undermine collective action. Stunningly shot in the Nile valley, it remains one of the landmarks of Egyptian cinema.

Streaming on… Netflix

Late Spring (1949)

Late Spring (1949)

Yasujiro Ozu’s classic ‘Noriko trilogy’ – completed by Early Summer (1951) and Tokyo Story (1953) – all feature Setsuko Hara as a daughter figure called Noriko. In Late Spring, Noriko is nudged into marriage by her widower father, even though he knows he’ll be left alone as a result. The backdrop of springtime underlines the sense of necessary change as time moves on, but as the camera lingers in hallways and rooms after the actors have left them, the sensation of absence is crushing.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime (BFI Player’s channel)

Let There Be Light (1946)

Let There Be Light (1946)

In between such classics as The Maltese Falcon and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, director John Huston was among a number of high-profile Hollywood directors who were drafted in to make documentary films for the US military during the Second World War. This blunt and moving film details soldiers returning with post-traumatic stress disorder and was a key inspiration for Paul Thomas Anderson when making The Master.

Streaming on… Netflix

Little Big Man (1970)

Little Big Man (1970)

Between them Dustin Hoffman and director Arthur Penn had kicked off the New Hollywood era in 1967 with The Graduate and Bonnie and Clyde respectively. They came together in 1970 for this epic revisionist western. Told in flashback by the heavily made-up Hoffmann as a 121-year old veteran of the Indian wars, it’s a picaresque adventure with plenty of colourful turns. Imagine a kind of Barry Lyndon of the plains.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

Little Joe (2019)

Little Joe (2019)

Austrian auteur Jessica Hausner’s first English language project is a fascinatingly eerie and provocative excursion into clinical sci-fi. Emily Beecham plays the plant breeder who creates a new strain of flower with a scent that induces human happiness. She names it ‘Little Joe’ after her son, but soon finds that the flower seems to be causing erratic behaviour in all who breathe in its pollen.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime (BFI Player’s channel)

The Long Day Closes (1992)

The Long Day Closes (1992)

Terence Davies’ lyrical memoir of growing up in postwar Liverpool is one of his finest films, in which 11-year-old Bud escapes from the mundane reality of 50s Britain by revelling in his trips to the local picture palace.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

Midnight Cowboy (1969)

Midnight Cowboy (1969)

Teaming Jon Voight’s male prostitute Joe Buck and Dustin Hoffman’s ailing conman Rizzo, Midnight Cowboy comes on like a cinematic Velvet Underground record in its immersion in a seamy nocturnal underside of New York life. It won best picture and best director at the 1970 Oscars. Seen today, it looks like a model for the likes of My Own Private Idaho (1991) and the Safdie brothers’ Heaven Knows What (2014).

Streaming on… Netflix

Monsoon (2019)

Monsoon (2019)

Monsoon features Crazy Rich Asians’ Henry Golding as a British-Vietnamese man who has arrived back in Vietnam for the first time since his childhood, to a country and culture he barely remembers or recognises. This is the second feature from Cambodia-born Chinese-British director Hong Khaou, following the Ben Whishaw drama Lilting (2014), and anyone who saw that will recognise the same softly spoken, carefully calibrated approach here.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime (BFI Player’s channel)

My Neighbour Totoro (1988)

My Neighbour Totoro (1988)

The highest ranked animated film on Sight & Sound’s most recent best-films-ever poll, this Studio Ghibli classic is the story of 2 young sisters who move into a new home and encounter friendly animal spirits living in the nearby forest. Fans of the film know that not much happens, but that’s all part of its calm magic: it’s a movie that seems to breathe enchantment. 

Streaming on… Netflix

Nayakan (1987)

Nayakan (1987)

Inspired in part by The Godfather (1972), this epic Tamil-language gangster movie charts the rise of its titular ‘hero’ Velu from slum dweller to mobster don after he witnesses the death of his father at the hands of the police. Once named one of the 100 best films ever made by Time magazine no less, it’s an essential watch for anyone looking to expand their viewing habits beyond the familiar western gangland classics.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

New Rose Hotel (1998)

New Rose Hotel (1998)

As so often in Abel Ferrara’s cinema, watching New Rose Hotel feels like brushing up against something dangerous. Based on a William Gibson novel, it’s an erotic cyberpunk drama of shifting, sheeny textures. Christopher Walken and Willem Dafoe play corporate extraction specialists who arrive at the eponymous hotel to try to lure a scientific genius to a rival company.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

The Nightingale (2018)

The Nightingale (2018)

Australian writer-director Jennifer Kent won plaudits aplenty for her debut, the 2014 horror film The Babadook, but her follow-up is even better. It’s more genuinely horrific, though it’s not a horror film but an unusually visceral period film set in an early 19th-century penal colony in Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania). Aisling Franciosi plays the young Irish convict who enlists the help of an Aboriginal tracker to pursue the British soldier who committed horrific crimes against her and her family.

Streaming on… Netflix

Only You (2018)

Only You (2018)

A quite brilliant British debut feature here, from Harry Wootliff. Laia Costa and Josh O’Connor star as a young couple with a decade age gap who meet and fall passionately in love, only for their relationship to put through an emotional wringer when they struggle to conceive a child. Only You is delicate, bruisingly immediate and exceptionally moving.

Streaming on… Netflix

Orphée (1950)

Orphée (1950)

Set within the café-centred bohemian Paris of the postwar period, a time when a tortured poet could still earn fame and a modest fortune, Jean Cocteau’s classic fantasy features the lion-like actor Jean Marais as the beatnik wordsmith who must descend into the underworld in search of his deceased lover.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime (BFI Player’s channel)

Ossessione (1943)

Ossessione (1943)

This unofficial adaptation of James M. Cain’s thriller The Postman Always Rings Twice marked the debut of aristocratic Italian director Luchino Visconti. Visconti supplanted Cain’s sweaty story of adultery and murder to provincial Italy, and his naturalistic depiction of the lives and concerns of working people foreshadowed the rise of the postwar neorealist movement. 

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

The Other Side of the Wind (2018)

The Other Side of the Wind (2018)

Orson Welles fans assumed they’d never see this long unfinished project from the early 70s. Yet it finally saw the light of day in 2018, in a version that’s been polished off as closely as possible to Welles’s wishes and released on Netflix. More than worth the wait, it’s a dizzyingly kaleidoscopic film about filmmaking, with John Huston playing an ageing, cigar-chomping director at the centre of a maelstrom of acolytes, critics and hangers-on.

Streaming on… Netflix

Pakeezah (1972)

Pakeezah (1972)

Kamal Amrohi’s opulent romantic drama is an escapist treat for the senses. Set in turn-of-the-century Lucknow, Pakeezah stars legendary Hindi film star Meena Kumari in the dual role of the ‘nautch girl’ (courtly dancer), who is rejected by her lover’s family for her lowly status, and the daughter she dies giving birth to. Staged on the most extraordinary palatial sets, it’s a film that seems to emit its own perfume, whisking us away to a tear-soaked world of love notes, steam trains and candlelit courtyards.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

The Parallax View (1974)

The Parallax View (1974)

Beginning with an assassination atop Seattle’s Space Needle, The Parallax View is one of the key paranoid thrillers of the Watergate era. Warren Beatty plays the reporter probing the killing of a US senator and slowly uncovering a sinister conspiracy centring around a shadowy organisation called the Parallax Corporation. Coming between Klute (1971) and All the President’s Men (1976), it’s the filling in Alan J. Pakula’s great paranoia trilogy and still compulsively entertaining nearly half a century on.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

Paris Is Us (2019)

Paris Is Us (2019)

Elisabeth Vogler’s debut began as a Kickstarter project before the ultimate backer swept in: Netflix. Doffing its hat to latter-day Terrence Malick, and shot in a similarly euphoric, out-in-the-streets style, it’s a boldly envisioned teen relationship drama filmed against the backdrop of real-life events in Paris in the era of ‘Je suis Charlie’ and the Bataclan massacre. 

Streaming on… Netflix

The Player (1992)

The Player (1992)

With its parade of cameos (Bruce Willis, Susan Sarandon, Cher, Julia Roberts, Harry Belafonte… the list goes on and on), Robert Altman’s dazzling satire of modern Hollywood in the era of corporate takeovers and 25-word pitches rewards endless rewatches, if only to make sure you’ve caught them all.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

Private Life (2018)

Private Life (2018)

Tamara Jenkins’ funny-sad indie drama was one of the quieter triumphs of 2018 in film: an expertly observed and wrenchingly moving character study starring Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti as a middle-aged New Yorker couple who are desperately trying to have a baby. 

Streaming on… Netflix

Pyaasa (1957)

Pyaasa (1957)

The most famous release by actor, director and general iconoclast Guru Dutt, Pyaasa is a glory of Bollywood’s golden age. If you’re new to classic Bollywood, this may even be the perfect place to dive in. Its tale of a poet struggling to make his name in post-independence India is relayed through intoxicating black-and-white cinematography and almost hypnotically catchy songs, building to a back-from-the-dead finale that will have you up in your seat.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

Radio Days (1987)

Radio Days (1987)

Woody Allen’s nostalgic tribute to the heyday of the wireless, set in Queens, NYC in the 1930s, is one of his most innovative and delightful films. Joe is the young boy growing up in a Jewish-American family in Rockaway Beach, where the rhythms of life keep time with the golden age of radio serials and the big-band sounds of Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman.

Streaming on… Netflix

The Red House (1947)

The Red House (1947)

– “There’s something out in those woods. Something tells me we won’t find out what it is until I find the red house.”
– “What are we going to do with it when we find it?”
– “Bust it open, I guess, and let some light in. Maybe it’ll shake the creeps out of a lot of things.”

This dialogue may sound like it’s from a lost episode of Twin Peaks, but it’s actually from this dreamlike Hollywood drama. By the late 40s, all types of latent strangeness were seeping into Hollywood film from the American subconscious, and The Red House is a kind of looking-glass fairytale with unspoken-of horror at its heart. It begins as apple-pie-innocent high-school kid Nath takes work at the farm of classmate Meg’s adoptive father (played by Edward G. Robinson), who warns him not to return home via the woods, where a red cabin holds dangerous secrets.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

Roma (2018)

Roma (2018)

From Gravity and Children of Men director Alfonso Cuarón, Roma is his Oscar-winning memoir of his childhood in 70s Mexico, shot in black-and-white, pinprick-sharp digital images that are glorious to behold. Netflix’s most widely acclaimed ‘exclusive’, it’s worth getting a bigger telly for.

Streaming on… Netflix

Sansho Dayu (1954)

Sansho Dayu (1954)

Sansho Dayu is a medieval tale following the woebegotten fortunes of a mother and her 2 children who become fatefully separated en route to joining the exiled father, a provincial governor. One of Kenji Mizoguchi’s masterpieces, it’s a film that’s Shakespearian in its combination of epic sweep and acutely emotional tragedy. Via his characteristically lengthy travelling shots, we’re given both distance and bruising intimacy as witnesses of the family’s plight.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime (BFI Player’s channel)

She’s Gotta Have It (1986)

She’s Gotta Have It (1986)

Spike Lee’s breakthrough film was shot in 12 days for the princely sum of $175k but put him squarely on the map as one of America’s brightest new independent filmmakers. Tracy Camilla Johns stars as Nola Darling, a Brooklynite with 3 different love affairs ongoing, but who refuses to commit to any of them.

Streaming on… Netflix

The Shooting (1966)

The Shooting (1966)

All you need to make a western is some horses and a patch of desert. Made back to back with Ride in the Whirlwind in Utah canyon country (and for small beans), The Shooting is a brilliantly spare cowboy film that evolves into almost Beckettian parable. Warren Oates and a young Jack Nicholson star. 

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

The Silence (1998)

The Silence (1998)

Kids on a quest is a popular theme in Iranian cinema. Something as everyday as buying a goldfish or transporting a plane of glass can take on mythic dimensions. Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s The Silence is full of this kind of casual magic, where the sounds and music that distract a young blind boy from his task hit us with a kind of ultra-vivid synaesthesia. Take a chance on it.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

Sleepwalk (1986)

Sleepwalk (1986)

The films of Sara Driver are still too little celebrated, and they’re nearly all on Prime at the moment, so there’s no excuse. 1986’s Sleepwalk centres on the surreal night that ensues after a New Yorker (Suzanne Fletcher) is hired to translate an ancient Chinese text. Shot by Jim Jarmusch, it’s an authentically dreamlike experience that plays like a 1980s update of the urban uncanny of Cat People (1942). 

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

Sonatine (1993)

Sonatine (1993)

Takeshi Kitano’s cult 90s favourite Sonatine is the yakuza film remodelled as a kind of ambient hang-out movie, seeing a troupe of gangsters sent to tropical Okinawa to await orders. There they wait, whiling away the hours playing games on the beach – in the calm before violence inevitably erupts.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime (BFI Player’s channel)

Southern Comfort (1981)

Southern Comfort (1981)

Walter Hill’s Deliverance-style, bayou-set thriller zeroes in on a platoon of national guardsmen on weekend manoeuvres through Louisiana swampland. After an unthinking act of violence makes them the prey of some vengeful Cajun woodsmen, macho jostling for supremacy gives way to a lethal game of cat and mouse.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

A Special Day (1977)

A Special Day (1977)

This brief-encounter tale from Ettore Scola is set on the historic day in 1938 when Mussolini welcomed Hitler to Rome. Shot in sepia-like colour, the action brings together 2 neighbours – strangers who are left alone in an apartment block after the rest of its residents flock to the rally. A deglamourised Sophia Loren is the housewife, while Marcello Mastroianni is the gay radio broadcaster who’s due to be deported for his anti-fascist sympathies. Scola charts their meeting of minds in gorgeous tracking shots, achieving a density of feeling that’s reminiscent of a good short story.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

Sudden Fear (1952)

Sudden Fear (1952)

In this rivettingly implausible film noir, Joan Crawford is the hotshot Broadway playwright who rejects Jack Palance’s actor for a role in her new play, only to fall in love with him when she bumps into him again onboard a cross-country train. But is he everything he seems? 

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

Sunday’s Illness (2018)

Sunday’s Illness (2018)

That’s a really off-putting title for what in fact is an utterly engrossing drama, told with some of the same intoxicating polish as some of Pedro Almodóvar’s later films. Exclusive to Netflix after they grabbed it straight out of the Berlin Film Festival, it kicks off when a wealthy society woman is suddenly confronted with a figure she hasn’t seen in 30 years: the daughter she abandoned. 

Streaming on… Netflix

Support the Girls (2018)

Support the Girls (2018)

Andrew Bujalski’s Support the Girls sets us down in a Texan ‘breastaurant’ of the Hooters variety, detailing the camaraderie and everyday tribulations of Double Whammies manager Regina Hall and her team of waitresses, including Haley Lu Richardson. Support the Girls has lots to say about gender and race in the modern workplace, and worker exploitation, but it’s also a warmly humanist and frequently hilarious film, building to one of the most cathartic final scenes in recent memory.

Streaming on… Netflix

Suspense (1913)

Suspense (1913)

Spare 10 minutes of your time to discover this treat from the dawn of suspense in cinema. Co-directed by Lois Weber and Phillips Smalley, it’s the blueprint of all home invasion movies, complete with an early car chase and split screen effects to heighten the tension. It’s tricky to find on Netflix, but you can find it in the collection Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers.

Streaming on… Netflix

System Crasher (2019)

System Crasher (2019)

Nora Fingscheidt’s scalding debut film centres on a 9-year-old so aggressive and unruly that she tests the limits of Germany’s social care networks. Winning multiple awards on its home turf, this is a ruthlessly unsentimental depiction of delinquency and child sociopathy that you watch through your fingers. So it’s testament to young Helena Zengel’s formidable turn that the vulnerable humanity at her character’s core is never in doubt.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime (BFI Player’s channel)

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)

Among the handful of kung fu offerings on Netflix, the most iconic is surely The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, a touchstone release from the legendary Shaw Brothers stable that made a star of Gordon Liu. Liu plays the novitiate at a sacred monastery who must learn martial arts by working his way through 35 chambers of fiendish challenges.

Streaming on… Netflix

Time (2020)

Time (2020)

Near the top of many lists of the best films of 2020, Garrett Bradley’s poignant documentary follows New Orleans mum Sibil Fox Richardson as she campaigns for the release of her husband, who is serving an outsized 60-year sentence for bank robbery. Combining home movies with new footage, all rendered in black and white, Time is documentary as blues, capturing the sad toll this judicial decision has taken on the life of a family across the decades. 

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

A Time for Dying (1969)

A Time for Dying (1969)

Just the kind of low-budget western that was still being turned out of the studio system’s ageing corners at the end of the 1960s — the scene mythologised in Quentin Tarantino’s Once upon a Time in Hollywood — Budd Boetticher’s final film is a sunset western that’s full of elegiac, old-timer melancholy. Yet its acid critique on the roles dished out to women in the old west also marks it as strikingly modern. A real find on Prime.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

Time Share (2018)

Time Share (2018)

This nifty holiday-from-hell mystery from Mexico premiered at Sundance 2018 before being picked up and then buried/made available to the biggest audience on Earth via Netflix. It begins when a couple arrive at a luxury resort only to find a boisterous family have also been booked into their apartment – the first of a number of infuriating infractions that lead to the revelation that the resort isn’t everything it seems.

Streaming on… Netflix

To Catch a Thief (1955)

To Catch a Thief (1955)

One of Hitchcock’s glossiest, most seductive entertainments, To Catch a Thief stars Cary Grant as John Robie, a retired cat burglar who falls for the charms of Riviera socialite Francie (Grace Kelly), while a spate of robberies along the coast finds Robie fighting to clear his name. This is a Hitchcock movie, so there’s no shortage of suspense, but the film is more notable for its sunny, relaxed tempo and its naughty suggestiveness, as when Kelly offers Grant “a leg or a breast” during the classic picnicking scene.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

Twilight’s Last Gleaming (1977)

Twilight's Last Gleaming (1977)

In this humdinger of the race-against-the-clock-to-prevent-nuclear-armageddon subgenre, Burt Lancaster plays the renegade USAF general who takes control of a missile silo in Montana and threatens to start World War III unless the president (Charles Durning) reveals the contents of a secret Vietnam war document. Robert Aldrich’s film is formidably taut and tense, while offering a prickly take on American patriotism.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime (BFI Player’s channel)

Uncut Gems (2019)

Uncut Gems (2019)

From Daddy Longlegs (2009) to Good Time (2017), the films of the Safdie brothers aren’t so much thrillers as cinematic anxiety attacks, setting us into orbit with characters whose lives are walking maelstroms of disorder. With Uncut Gems they’ve outdone themselves. Adam Sandler plays the gambling-addicted Manhattan jewellery dealer who sells a rare black opal to NBA superstar Kevin Garnett (playing himself) only to steamroll deep into headache country by placing a big bet with borrowings against the future sale.

Streaming on… Netflix

Under the Shadow (2016)

Under the Shadow (2016)

Imaginatively creepy and jump-inducing horror from British-Iranian director Babak Anvari. Under the Shadow is set in early 80s Tehran, during the Iran-Iraq war, when a young girl becomes convinced that malevolent supernatural forces are at work in her family’s apartment block.

Streaming on… Netflix

Under the Volcano (1984)

Under the Volcano (1984)

Malcolm Lowry’s mezcal-marinated masterpiece of 1947, a modernist Mexican Ulysees, was assumed to be unfilmable until legendary old-time Hollywood director John Huston gave it a terrific stab in this 1984 adaptation. A Panama-hatted Albert Finney stars as the alcoholic former British consul losing his grip as the town of Quauhnahuac is subsumed with its annual Day of the Dead celebrations.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

Volver (2006)

Volver (2006)

Blood, lipstick and tomatoes all share the same vivid shade of red in this sumptuous family melodrama from Pedro Almódovar, which slowly peels back its narrative mysteries with all the allure of a Hitchcock thriller. Penélope Cruz plays one of 2 sisters – one based in Madrid, the other in windswept La Mancha – who hear of a sighting of their much-missed mother, who died in a house fire several years previously.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime (BFI Player’s channel)

Walkabout (1971)

Walkabout (1971)

Nicolas Roeg’s extraordinary outback tale is credited with helping to kickstart the Australian New Wave. A teenage Jenny Agutter and the director’s own son Luc play the young English siblings who are abandoned by their father in the Australian desert. Innocents abroad in a savage wilderness, their chances of survival are pinned on an Indigenous Australian boy (David Gulpilil) who becomes their friend and guide. 

Streaming on… Amazon Prime (BFI Player’s channel)

The Watermelon Woman (1996)

The Watermelon Woman (1996)

Forget Clerks (1994), the best 90s film set around a video store is this inspired romcom, the debut feature by Cheryl Dunye. It’s smart, self-reflexive yet never less than easygoing, even as it pulls off a narrative sleight of hand worthy of Paul Auster or Orson Welles’ F for Fake (1973). Dunye plays the store assistant who moonlights as a documentary filmmaker, putting together a film about the ‘mammy’ stereotype incarnated by Black actresses during the Hollywood golden age. 

Streaming on… Amazon Prime (BFI Player’s channel)

Whisper of the Heart (1995)

Whisper of the Heart (1995)
© 1995 Aoi Hiiragi / Shueisha - Nibariki - GNH

Among Studio Ghibli’s most delightful films, Whisper of the Heart is sadly the only film directed by Miyazaki protégé Yoshifumi Kondo before his death aged 47 in 1998. Based on a Miyazaki script, it contains that perfect balance of enchantment and the everyday that characterises many of Ghibli’s finest. Its heroine is a budding writer who one day realises that each of her library books has previously been checked out by the same person: the mysterious ‘Seiji Amasawa’.

Streaming on… Netflix

The White Reindeer (1952)

The White Reindeer (1952)

This legendarily loopy Lapland oddity centres on a lonely wife who – left to spend too many cold winter nights alone when her husband is away working – goes to visit the local shaman for help alleviating her sexual frustrations. The cure? She’s transformed into the eponymous white reindeer – a vampiric shapeshifter that proves dangerously alluring to the local men. Unravelling as a nightmare fairytale in stark black-and-white images, The White Reindeer belongs in the pile marked ‘needs to be seen to be believed’.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime (BFI Player’s channel)

The Wild Pear Tree (2018)

The Wild Pear Tree (2018)

The films of Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan have been getting longer and longer, but also talkier of late. The Wild Pear Tree is full of magnificently constructed scenes of walking and talking, as city student and would-be author Sinan returns to his parents’ rural home to wrestle with his future. Ceylan’s sublime landscape compositions are the work of a visual master.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime (BFI Player’s channel)

The Woman in the Window (1944)

The Woman in the Window (1944)

Few directors have more A-grade film noirs to their name than Fritz Lang, and The Woman in the Window is one of his best. Edward G. Robinson stars as the lovelorn professor who gets mixed up in murder after falling for Joan Bennett’s alluring femme fatale.

Streaming on… Netflix

Woman on the Run (1950)

Woman on the Run (1950)

One of the comparatively few film noirs with a female protagonist. She’s not really on the run though. That title’s misleading. Instead, Ann Sheridan plays the estranged wife of a man who has gone into hiding after witnessing a gangland murder. With a tabloid hack tagging along, and with the police watching her every move, she must follow a trail of clues through San Francisco to find him – all culminating in a giddying climax at the amusement park at Santa Monica pier.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

Wuthering Heights (2011)

Wuthering Heights (2011)

Andrea Arnold’s unconventional adaptation of Emily Brontë’s novel blows away the cobwebs of the period movie, leaving only the ferocious extremes of the emotion between Cathy and Heathcliff and the wind-blown desolation of the setting on the Yorkshire moors. Shot by master cinematographer Robbie Ryan, this is the period movie as elemental howl.

Streaming on… Netflix