With the ongoing pandemic and other ensuing difficulties, sanity hangs loosely by a thread. We converse with fictitious characters while being cooped up at home; cinemas and movie theatres being closed, streaming platforms such as Netflix provide the momentary period of escapism for all film fans.
The ’10 best’ lists are never static, they are always under construction and ever-evolving. We keep adding names; the previous ones, despite leaving an indelible mark on our minds, are evicted from the list. Netflix’s algorithm recommends movies that we often end up loving. However, there are certain classics that we all go back to on dark, mellow days as they are our comfort blankets.
Sifting through the innumerable movies available, here are our top 10 picks from the ‘award-winning films’ category on Netflix, in no particular order, that deserve to be watched/rewatched for their sheer brilliance, marvellous performances and intricate storytelling.
Let’s get going.
“Schindler gave me my life, and I tried to give him immortality.” – Poldek Pfefferberg
A Holocaust survivor as well as a Schindlerjuden, Poldek Pfefferberg, was determined to tell the world about Schindler’s act of compassion. Zealous and persistent, he motivated Thomas Keneally to write the book Schindler’s Ark and subsequently persuaded Steven Spielberg to film the adaptation. The film traces the journey of Oskar Schindler, an ethnic German, who travels to Krakow, Poland, amidst World War II to make a fortune for himself by acquiring a factory for enamelware production. He ends up hiring cheap labour in the form of Jew workers with the help of Itzhak Stern, making a lot of profit. However, with the arrival of the ruthless Göth, the Jews are mercilessly exterminated. Moved by their suffering, Schindler exhausts his fortune by bribing the officials to prevent them from killing the Jewish workers. Following an elaborate plan, Schindler and Stern successfully rescue the Jews; on seeing the number of people he had saved and having compared it with the number of Jews that could have been saved, in a heart-wrenching scene, Schindler breaks down, crying inconsolably. The film ends with the Schindlerjuden paying homage to their saviour, by placing stones on Oskar Schindler’s grave.
Schindler’s List is undoubtedly one of the best historical dramas on the horrors of the Holocaust. It bears witness to the atrocities meted out to the Jews and contains scenes that petrify the audience. The motif of the girl in the red coat looms large in the monochromatic movie, signifying the innocent Jews being slaughtered; Spielberg, however, adds a touch of humanism to his protagonist, and one cannot help but mourn with Oskar at the end. Though the film has been criticised for being viewed from the perspective of a Nazi German and for not having further explored the tropes of violence and sexuality, Schindler’s List, a dark and emotionally hefty masterpiece, is indeed one of the greatest films of all time and is of essential viewing.
Hayao Miyazaki’s 2001 Japanese anime film Spirited Away is inarguably one of the most brilliant Studio Ghibli productions. Surreal and spectacular, the film has a strong ten-year-old female protagonist Chihiro who embarks on a quest to save her parents from the curse of a witch named Yubaba. Her parents had been turned into pigs (a punishment for gluttony), and with the help of Haku, her guide, Chihiro succeeds in her mission to rescue her loved ones; her love, generosity and courage aids her on this journey. She is selfless and caring and she strives relentlessly to make the lives of those around her better, even Yuababa. Chihiro’s parents are oblivious to her spiritual growth as they have no inkling of what passed after their sumptuous meal at the restaurant. The journey is important to Chihiro alone as she finally finds her true self and purpose at such a tender age, and from being wary, wide-eyed and timid, Chihiro exudes bravery, confidence and determination by the end of the film.
Miyazaki’s work is a visual treat for the audience. His creativity and imagination run wild as he captivates them with detailed backgrounds, rich colours and fantasy elements. This otherworldly setup serves as an escape from the drudgery of daily life. He takes his own sweet time to elaborate on the details provided in his film, often losing track of whether it is necessary or not. At times, the characters are present without being involved in any action which adds further beauty to the film. Chihiro’s journey in the wondrous Miyazakian terrain leaves the audience spellbound, and they are left wanting more.
Inarittu’s 2015 epic adventure film The Revenant is not for the faint-hearted. True to the meaning of the word, which is used to signify someone who has returned from the jaws of death, the film is based on a terrifying quest for survival where a man is pitted against the wrath of nature, as well as against the betrayal of his comrade-turned-traitor, Fitzgerald. Due to a fatal bear attack, Hugh Glass, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, is severely injured. Instead of helping him, his compatriots leave him to succumb to his injuries. With incredible courage and unwavering determination, Glass fights against the adversities that lie in his path, resolving to survive and avenge himself. Glass barely utters a word throughout the entire film which adds to the poignance.
DiCaprio, after being snubbed by the Academy multiple times, finally bagged the much-coveted Oscar for his stellar performance in this film. It would have been a pity had he not received it for he, despite being a vegetarian, went to the extent of consuming an actual raw liver for his role to add a hint of realism to the film. The scenes are brutal and gut-wrenching; the evisceration of the horse might make the audience gag. As a naked Glass crawls into the animal carcass to survive the harsh weather, the passion in his eyes induce an unfathomable amount of pity in the audience who cannot help but gasp at every near-death sequence. Tom Hardy as Fitzgerald is the perfect villain—horrid and vile—abhorred by all. With its brilliant visuals, impeccable cinematography, as well as marvellous performances, The Revenant is a spectacular film that is wild, untamed and unforgettable.
Criticised for romanticising mental illness and for being too melodramatic in comparison to the episodic novel it was adapted from, James Mangold’s 1999 psychological drama Girl, Interrupted is an award-winning film that must be watched to comprehend Hollywood’s take on a serious theme. The film revolves around Ryder’s character, eighteen-year-old Susanna Kaysen, being sent to a psychiatric institution for allegedly having attempted suicide, which she vehemently denies. At Claymoore, she befriends girls embodying various psychological ailments, ranging from pathological lying to Bulimia and OCD. Angelina Jolie’s Lisa is a rebellious and free-spirited resident who is well versed in all the tricks of the trade. Having befriended her, Susanna begins to enjoy the essence of life. Although they escape the institution, having witnessed Daisy’s suicide, Susanna returns while Lisa is on the run.on being reunited, they quarrel viciously, which almost causes Lisa to end her life. At the end of the film, on the day of her release, Susanna and Lisa reconcile in a heartwarming scene.
Girl, Interrupted is a delight to watch. The friendships they form while being cooped up inside Claymoore defies general understanding. As the most unlikely bunch of friends, they stick up for each other in times of need. Susanna and Lisa sing to ‘Torch’ aka Polly to help her settle, while Lisa stands up to Susanna’s bullies. Claymoore serves as an escape for Susanna who cannot seem to fit in anywhere. Even when Toby tries to persuade Susanna to leave, she refuses. Claymoore is home; the patients are like one happy family—it is a place where they are not seen as the other. The film bears testament to Angelina Jolie’s onscreen brilliance. Having won her only Oscar for her incredible performance, Jolie surpasses the protagonist played by Winona Ryder, who comes off lifeless and limp in comparison. Ryder is demure, even while she is delivering powerful dialogues; Jolie, however, thrives. With her messy fringe bangs and a smirk plastered on her face, her eyes do all the talking. Watch the film to witness Jolie’s wonderful power-packed performance.
The desire to gain more and the yearning for a change is at the root of human existence. Sam Mendes’ 2008 romantic drama Revolutionary Road is based on this very idea. Frank Wheeler, played by the handsome Leonardo DiCaprio, aspires to be a cashier, while Kate Winslet’s April hopes to pursue acting. The story follows the life of this young coupe which comes of as perfect on the outside. However, their relationship is strained by their different expectations and purpose in life. When April proposes to relocate to Paris, Frank is quite sceptical at first, yet relents. The American Dream, however, hinders their plan, as Frank gets a promotion and April is pregnant once again. What follows is a violent brawl which ends in April trying to get an abortion herself and subsequently succumbing to the internal bleeding. Frank moves away with his daughters and their pretty little house becomes a home for another ‘perfect couple’.
The film strikes a chord because it is very honest in its portrayal of women trying to keep up with the ‘American Dream’. April does not have a surname; she signifies any woman in the United States, who is aspiring to be an actress, stifled by a somewhat loveless marriage and motherhood, yearning for an escape. Frank sleeps with a secretary who represents the other type who is unbothered by the number of men she has to sleep with, as long as her interests and purposes get fulfilled. Frank is a mess, he loves his wife yet tries to gain control of her body rights by stopping her from getting an abortion. He makes an effort to be the perfect family man but fails due to his visible shortcomings. He has anger issues, and like April, is bored of his mundane routine. Would Paris have salvaged their marriage? Perhaps. Frank is a tragic protagonist who was bound to lose at the end; Revolutionary Road is a brilliant social commentary on the society’s desire to dream for something different. Winslet’s superb performance as April is one of the many reasons as to why the film is a must-watch for all.
Packed with violent action sequences and raunchy scenes involving the glorious world of the Italian Mafia, Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 adaptation of Mario Puzo’s eponymous novel The Godfather scored the home run, winning accolades at the 45th Academy Awards. The film is a faithful adaptation of Puzo’s crime novel, based on the Corleone family who is fighting at loggerheads with the Five Families of New York Mafia. The Godfather, Don Vito Corleone, played by talented Marlon Brando, is a respectable man of character. His cunning and intelligence coupled with his loyalty aids him in his business. His youngest son Michael, played by Al Pacino, is disinterested in the family business until his father gets shot. The rest of the film is based on various events that lead to Michael becoming the next Godfather, eliminating anyone that stands in his way. It is the first instalment of the famous The Godfather Trilogy which is one of the most-watched classic film trilogies in the history of cinema.
The performances of all the stalwart actors are unparalleled, it is almost as if they are engaging in a friendly competition to prove their competence. Marlon Brando would stuff cotton balls to get into character; during the shoot sequence, he wore steel dentures. The opening scene remains the most iconic, where Brando is introduced as the Godfather, his jawline bulging forward, his voice husky and sharp. It is considered to be one of Brando’s most striking performances; though he rejected the Oscar, nobody deserved it as much as he did. Al Pacino’s prowess shines through—his eyes, really, do never lie! He is ruthless and cold-blooded, his words sharp enough to cut through glass. The trilogy is a total of 584 minutes, nine hours of nerve-wracking action, mindless violence, skilful filmmaking and sheer brilliance.
Based on Emma Donoghue’s novel of the same name, Room is a 2015 indie-drama film based on the trials and tribulations a single mother and her son face after being released from captivity. Joy Newsome, lives with her five-year-old son, Jack, in a tiny shed where they share all the essential amenities and are cut off from the outside world. Old Nick, their captor and Jack’s father, rapes Joy every night. Having planned an escape after years of abuse, Joy and Jack escape the clutches of their abuser and Old Nick is arrested. However, having been confined for so long, they are unaware of how to communicate with the outside world—strangely enough, they feel unsafe and vulnerable. The film ends with the mother and son duo visiting the room for one last time to bid goodbye.
Brie Larson as Joy Newsome is exceptional. She delivers a striking performance where her doubts, anxiety, trauma and depression shrouds her like a blanket. Joy is terrified of the world, she is even more terrified of how her son would deal with “real” things. Child actor Jacob Tremblay is incredibly gifted and he portrays his innocent role with magnificence and poise which is unthinkable at his age. The film is quite distressing and the scenes involving the duo can be, at times, overwhelming. Quite unexpectedly, it ends on a positive note where they can free themselves from captivity—although they had been rescued long back, it is not until the very end that they can break free from the emotional shackles that prevented them from going back to ‘normal’. The anxiety of a captive, once they attain freedom, is unsettling yet beautiful; Room is an astonishing tale of survival which must be watched and cherished.
Sam Mendes’ 1999 masterpiece American Beauty is a sardonic commentary on the social conventions that lull us into a false sense of reality. The film’s protagonist Lester Burnham has a troubled personal life and his wife, Carolyn, is overtly ambitious, while Jane, his daughter, is brimming with self-loathing and insecurities. Due to his mid-life crisis, Lester is infatuated by his daughter’s friend, Angela, and fantasizes about her. The film deals with dark themes, such as infidelity, loveless marriages, homophobia, taboo relationships, sexuality as well as murder, using caustic humour which causes the audience to flinch. The film ends in dramatic circumstances; however, the poignance is penetrated by a soothing monologue, followed by an iconic quote, where he can be heard saying: “I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me, but it’s hard to stay mad when there’s so much beauty in the world.”
Kevin Spacey’s Lester is incredibly relatable, intelligent and funny yet pathetic at the same time. He is flawless as a frustrated middle-aged father who cannot progress any further in his life. Each character manages to pull off their characters with effortless ease. The background score makes a huge difference where it mirrors the mood of every scene. The scene with the plastic bag flying in the wind is perhaps one of the simplest yet most brilliant scenes in the film where Ricky’s innocence shines through and he finds beauty in the minutiae of life. A raw commentary on masculinity, relationships, consumerism as well as the conventional standards of beauty, it is extremely relevant in today’s fast-paced world. Buoyed by splendid performances, American Beauty addresses the age-old question “What is Beauty” subtly enough to leave the audience pondering over the message conveyed by the film.
Spike Jonze’s brilliant 2013 film Her leaves a profound impact on the audience, irrespective of whether they enjoy the romantic genre or not. The film is a blend of the sci-fi and rom-com genres, bringing with it the best of both worlds. Theodore Twombly, lonely and depressed, is a recluse who composes letters on behalf of people who cannot find the right words to articulate their emotions. Ironically, Theodore is not very good at expressing his feelings and is going through a divorce with his childhood sweetheart. Struggling to come to terms with reality, he escapes it completely when he befriends (and later falls in love with) an artificial intelligence who prefers to call herself Samantha. Though intangible, Samantha leaves an everlasting impact on Theodore’s mind, helping him cope with his feelings. Surreal and bizarre, this love story takes an interesting turn when Theodore attempts to get physically intimate with a woman embodying Samantha yet fails as he realises how unbridgeable the gap is. The film, surprisingly, ends on a realistic note, where Theodore joins his ex-girlfriend Amy on the roof where they witness the sunrise.
Her, which is both an insightful and unsettling take on the near future, addresses a very important question “How to be Human?” Joaquin Phoenix is meticulous in his portrayal of the lonely and forlorn Theodore, who is desperate to find someone who is able to comprehend his feelings. He is tormented by his messy divorce and finally seeks solace in an AI which is not physically present yet manages to add colour to his monochromatic life. Scarlet Johansson lends her voice to Samantha and her soothing voice mesmerizes the audience. She is fun and flirty and behaves just like she has been programmed. Though Johansson never appears on the screen, she is omnipresent. This peculiar human-AI relationship is quite convincing and it puts forward the popular notion that falling in love would lead to inevitable heartbreaks which in turn could be beautiful and magical. The picture ends on a solemn yet promising note—the sunrise would indicate a new relationship. Perhaps Theodore and Amy would rekindle their love; perhaps Theodore would finally find comfort and warmth in the arms of a woman who is present in his life. This film is a tear-jerker; the audience would oddly be at peace once they immerse themselves in this story, yet quickly snap out of it in fear, dreading the reality that is right around the corner.
Damien Chazelle is no stranger to directing extraordinary films. With La La Land, he dances into the world of art and love, along with two other phenomenal actors Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. Brilliant cinematography along with sublime dream sequences helps the film stand out from the rest. Stone and Gosling are fantastic on screen, their chemistry wins the hearts of the audience, who cannot help but grin sheepishly as the story progresses.
In this musical, the actors thrive as they use the art of singing and dancing to convey their emotions. Los Angeles is the city of stars and sparkle—it is nothing short of a fairytale. The exquisite beauty has a hint of sadness which is a result of Chazelle’s genius. La La Land documents the love story of Sebastian Wilder, a jazz pianist striving to realise his dream of opening his jazz bar, and Mia Dolan, an aspiring actress. They are both trying to make a living for themselves in Los Angeles while acting out their respective roles in the musical. They are young and passionate, and very much in love but are uncertain of a future together. Life is not necessarily a fairytale with a happy ending and all actions have consequences. However, they meet again after five years in which both have seen their lives change dramatically. Chazelle also pays tribute to nearly all the predecessors and is an ingenious exhibition of visuals and sound that is bound to make the audience laugh, cry, and fall in and out of love at the same time.
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