Twenty years ago, Hollywood produced some of the most famous, formative, and original movies in its entire history — and set the stage for the next two decades of filmmaking. Twenty years later, the same industry gave us Dark Phoenix, an X-Men movie no one wanted or even bothered to see. So, things have changed at the multiplex — up to and including what even counts as the multiplex: Netflix scored its first-ever Best Picture nomination in 2019 (for Alfonso Cuarón's Roma) and has shown no signs of slowing down over the first six months of the year in its quest to dominate culture, with numerous major releases still to come. That's good news for viewers because it means some of the year's best movies are available to watch immediately via Netflix — though there are great options available through other digital platforms as well. Ahead, a list of the best movies of 2019 to stream right now.
Always Be My Maybe (dir. Nahnatchka Khan); Metacritic Score: 64
The romantic comedy isn't dead, it's just where it belongs: on Netflix. The streaming service reengaged with rom-com fans last summer thanks to Set It Up and To All the Boys I've Loved Before and has doubled down on the formerly lucrative format this year. Films like Someone Great and Perfect Date were perfectly fine, but Always Be My Maybe is what we might call an instant classic of the genre. Written by stars Randall Park and Ali Wong, it's as predictable as any Julia Roberts movie from the '90s but still warm, funny, and totally charming. Props too for having Keanu Reeves play himself in an uproarious send-up of Reeves' movie star persona. Believe the online hype on this one. Stream now on Netflix.
The Beach Bum (dir. Harmony Korine); Metacritic Score: 55
We're long past the peak of the McConaissance, but that doesn't mean Matthew McConaughey can't still surprise audiences. Take The Beach Bum, which puts McConaughey into full bloom as a stoner ne'er-do-well who stumbles through life to great, unlikely, absurd success. Harmony Korine's long-awaited follow-up to Spring Breakers is similarly Florida set and bathed in neon, but where Spring Breakers went dark, The Beach Bum keeps things relatively light. At least on the surface. Underneath the jokes and weed smoke is a searing satire of white male privilege and the notion that no one can succeed like a mediocre white man. (It also doubles as a thinly veiled autobiography of Korine himself, whose own issues with drugs and addiction are well documented and who, judging from The Beach Bum, might sometimes feel like an imposter to his own success.) But if the layers don't spark a high, there's still McConaughey, the beachiest beach bum of them all, reaching what might be his final form. Rent it via numerous digital providers, including Vudu.
High Flying Bird (dir. Steven Soderbergh); Metacritic Score: 77
Time for an oxymoron: Steven Soderbergh has been a Hollywood maverick for decades. How does he stay ahead of the curve while being ensconced as part of the establishment? By gleefully putting up a middle finger to expected decorum. That means while Christopher Nolan is out here championing actual film stock, Soderbergh is making an awesome movie on his iPhone. Literally. The director's latest, Netflix's High Flying Bird, was shot exclusively on the Apple device — and the digital sheen gives Soderbergh's movie both an energy and intimacy film stock maybe could not. It helps that High Flying Bird is aided by a crackling script from Moonlight Oscar winner Tarell Alvin McCraney and an aces lead performance from André Holland. Picture Michael Clayton but funny and mixed with Billions and NBA free agency. High Flying Bird is relentless entertainment. Stream now on Netflix.
Homecoming: A Film by Beyoncé (dir. Beyoncé); Metacritic Score: N/A
Documenting Beyoncé's now-legendary Coachella performance from 2018, Homecoming is a peek behind her carefully curated curtain. The singer, actress, and icon directed Homecoming and shows her full process in bringing the Coachella performance to the stage after giving birth to twins, Rumi and Sir. Homecoming brushes up against the ceiling of hagiography, but when it comes to Beyoncé, that actually feels warranted. That the documentary doubles as the best album of the year is mere gravy. Stream it now on Netflix.
Knock Down the House (dir. Rachel Lears); Metacritic Score: 80
It's not only easy to be cynical about politics in 2019, but it's also essential. How else could one be expected to get out of bed in the morning? So it's pretty impressive that Rachel Lears' documentary about four women who ran for Congress in 2018 is able to burst through that shield of natural distrust; this is more than just Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: The Movie. Knock Down the House does a great job of showing how all politics are local and reminds viewers that the stuff people actually care about is universal. A note: Political conservatives are encouraged to give this one a try if only to remember that there should be more to life than owning the libs. Stream it now on Netflix.
Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese (dir. Martin Scorsese); Metacritic Score: 86
When legend becomes fact, print the Scorsese. Rolling Thunder Revue is a documentary that toys with the notion of reality, which feels appropriate for a time when a term like "fake news" (which has seen its definition perverted to the point of being fake news) is the president's preferred exclamation. As the title suggests, this is a Bob Dylan "story," one about the singer's famed Rolling Thunder Revue tour in 1975-1976. Scorsese does the telling here, weaving incendiary and incredible live footage with flights of fancy, including a fake director who sounds like Werner Herzog, a congressman originally created by the late Robert Altman, and Sharon Stone as "herself," in a performance that rivals Keanu Reeves' winking turn in Always Be My Maybe. Even if those narrative flourishes don't work for everyone, Dylan's power as a performer certainly will. What a legend. Stream it now on Netflix.
Triple Frontier (dir. J.C. Chandor); Metacritic Score: 61
The road to Triple Frontier was as long, winding, and dangerous as our anti-heroes' escape route following the film's central heist. Back in 2010, Tom Hanks and Johnny Depp were set to star in this movie with Kathryn Bigelow as director. That never happened, and neither did versions with Hanks and Will Smith, Tom Hardy and Channing Tatum, Ben Affleck and Casey Affleck, and Mark Wahlberg. Eventually, Ben Affleck came back and joined Oscar Isaac, Garrett Hedlund, Charlie Hunnam, and Pedro Pascal for J.C. Chandor's thriller — and what was once a Paramount production became a Netflix film. We're better for that. It's doubtful Chandor would have gotten the budget from a major studio to pull off the kind of movie "they don't make anymore": an adult drama free from intellectual property. On the surface, Triple Frontier is a "dad movie," the kind of band of brothers war heist that fathers fall asleep watching on the couch. But what separates Chandor's film from TNT is the subversive streak: This is a movie that deconstructs America's foreign policy and the country's treatment of its veterans, while also finding room for some Metallica. It also features a truly great Affleck performance, playing a character on the downside of his peak who must reconcile with being left behind by the changing world around him. I wonder how he connected to the material. Stream it now on Netflix.
Under the Silver Lake (dir. David Robert Mitchell); Metacritic Score: 59
Is Under the Silver Lake the year's most misunderstood film? The cinematic equivalent of "retweet does not equal endorsement," David Robert Mitchell's It Follows follow-up focuses on a deeply misogynistic white knight (Andrew Garfield, gleefully playing against type) who falls down a rabbit hole of Easter eggs in pursuit of a deeper meaning to his pop culture. Here's one of his many rants: "Why do we just assume all of this infrastructure and entertainment and open information that is beaming all over the place, all the time, in every single home on the planet is exactly what we are told it is? Maybe there are people who are more important than us, more powerful and wealthier than us, that are communicating things and seeing things in the world that are meant for only them and not for us. I think it's f---ing ridiculous to assume that media has just one purpose, right?" Under the Silver Lake presents a portrait of the artist as a young man in the age of Reddit and investigates the deeply corrosive effects culture produced by straight white men for straight white men has had on straight white men — all while focusing on a character who treats women as objects because he thinks it's what he deserves. It's no wonder people on all sides of the political spectrum hate this movie. Here's guessing in 10 years, it will be remembered as one of this era's Rosetta Stones. Stream it on Amazon Prime Video starting July 1 (rent or buy now).
Us (dir. Jordan Peele); Metacritic Score: 81
Jordan Peele reinvigorated the Twilight Zone brand on CBS All Access this year (sign up for the service here; TV Guide is owned by CBS Interactive, a division of CBS Corporation), but his greatest contribution to the venerable allegorical series might be Us. This is a Twilight Zone episode come to screen life, filled with huge ideas about American identity and the country's class structure. It's also one helluva good time, anchored by two Lupita Nyong'o performances that stand together as the year's best acting work (seriously, give her another Oscar already). Us is scary, fun, and scary fun — a dangerous blank check movie that only someone coming off the industry-changing success of Get Out could get made. On screen, 2019 has failed spectacularly when compared to the operatic heights of 1999 — except for Peele's instant classic, which feels ripped out of 20 years ago in the best way possible. Rent it via numerous digital providers, including Vudu.