a couple lying on bed watching netflix on a laptop

Ahhh…romance. Few things are more hard-wired in all of us than the desire to find a soulmate, and few motivating principles in movies are more common. We scoured Netflix for the best romantic movies, including rom-com classics, tear-jerkers, Netflix originals, Bollywood romances, LGBTQ+ love stories, and more.

1. SHE’S GOTTA HAVE IT

Year: 1986
Director: Spike Lee
Stars: Tracy Camila Johns, Spike Lee, John Canada Terrell, Tommy Redmond Hicks
Rating: R
Runtime: 85 minutes

She’s Gotta Have It is a levelheaded exploration of a young black woman named Nola (Tracy Camilla Johns) trying to decide between her three male lovers, while also flirting with her apparent bisexuality, in order to, first and foremost, figure out what makes her happy. Shot like a documentary, it is an explosively frank feature debut that immediately announced Lee’s brave, fresh new voice in American cinema. What’s refreshing about the film is that Lee constantly suggests that “none of the above” is a perfectly viable option for both Nola and single women—a game changer in 1986. The film’s in-your-face realism is enhanced by the DIY indie grainy black-and-white cinematography. —Ege Kozak, Oktay

2. When Harry met Sally… (1989)

Year: 1989
Director: Rob Reiner
Stars: Billy Crystal, Meg Ryan, Carrie Fisher, Bruno Kirby
Rating: R

The story of Harry (Billy Crystal), Sally (Meg Ryan), and their 12-year journey to couplehood is easily the most beloved romantic comedy of its decade, with a solid script by Nora Ephron that feeds and feeds off of the unexpected chemistry between its leads. (With each new generation of lovers who sees the diner scene for the first time, another woman laughs and another man sits silently, wondering what’s so funny.) Mr. Michael Burgin

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3. Phantom Thread

Year: 2017
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Stars: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lesley Manville, Vicky Krieps
Rating: R

Phantom Thread is a film that is so beautifully made, so meticulously constructed, and so deeply felt in execution that you almost forget how prickly and scabrous it is. This has to be the most luscious-to-watch film ever, about how self-centered and inflexible the world of relationships can be, about how we can only give up so much of ourselves and it’s up to our partner to figure out how to deal with that, if they want to at all. This is an uncompromising film about two uncompromising people trying to live together without losing too much of themselves, and the sometimes extreme lengths they will go to get their way.

4. Her

Year: 2013
Director: Spike Jonze
Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Olivia Wilde, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara
Rating: R
Runtime: 126 minutes

Spike Jonze’s immense talent was far too great to be confined to MTV’s orbit, as evidenced by his Oscar nomination for Best Director for his breakout feature-length debut, Being John Malkovich. Following that minor postmodern masterpiece, he and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman continued their solipsistic journey with the hilariously insane Adaptation. As challenging, yet enjoyable, and approachable as Kaufman’s screenplays are, Jonze’s Her puts to rest any doubts about whether those two films’ (deserved) acclaim stemmed solely from the power of Kaufman’s words.

5. Atlantics

Year: 2019
Director: Mati Diop
Stars: Mame Bineta Sane, Amadou Mbow, Nicole Sougou, Aminate Kane
Rating: NR

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Mati Diop, the writer-director, has made a big announcement with Atlantics. She takes a peer’s magic realism and takes it to the world’s margins, examining class struggle in a Senegalese city on the Atlantic. Diop is able to evoke an incomparable mood and sense of place through the gritty, blustery opening images shot as an artful document of the Dakar shore (outstanding work by cinematographer Claire Mathon) and the hypnotic electronic score by Fatima Al Qadiri. The fact that this film appears and sounds so foreign to an American watching it on Netflix is perhaps a harsh enough indictment of the ways in which we intellectually isolate ourselves from realities other than our own.

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