5. The Lobster
Instantly becoming a cult comedy classic, The Lobster was a film that introduced many audiences to Yorgos Lanthimos’s unique brand of absurdist humor. The Lobster is among Lanthimos’s darkest films, as it depicts loneliness and isolation within relationships in a way that is quite bleak, but the absurd premise makes the film play out like a twisted fairy tale. In a strange dystopian world, single people meet and court, and if they do not find a partner within 45 days, they are turned into animals.
Colin Farrell gives one of his best performances as David, a recently divorced man whose brother was turned into a dog after failing to fall in love. Farrell does an excellent job at making this sad sack character utterly pathetic, yet also strangely charming, and once he forms a relationship with a mysterious woman (Rachel Weisz), the story really takes off. Lanthimos has a great talent for designing an idiosyncratic world with unique rules, and the latent details he hides make The Lobster even more impressive after repeated viewings.
4. Private Life
Tamara Jenkin’s vastly underrated 2018 film is a sobering, honest depiction of middle aged anxieties, telling the story of a couple, Richard (Paul Giamati) and Rachel (Kathryn Hahn), who are struggling to conceive a child as they work as writers in New York. The two have begun to quarrel as they question what they’re really searching for, but their lives become upended when Rachel’s niece Sadie (Kayli Carter) begins her extended stay and announces her intentions to become their egg donor.
Jenkins’s humor is brittle, as it calls into question what the characters’ real intentions are; Sadie sees being a donor as a way of making up for her failures at a college writing program, and both Richard and Rachel question what their future will look like if they aren’t parents. The questions are deep, but the characters all speak with a razor sharp wit and cynicism that keeps the film engaging, and the performances are just terrific. Paul Giamatti has long been one of the best working actors and he gives another richly nuanced performance here, and Kathryn Hahn, known primarily for her comedic work, shows that she has dramatic instincts as well.
3. The Edge of Seventeen
One of the greatest high school comedies since the John Hughes era, The Edge of Seventeen is a wonderfully low key, sincere coming of age story that finds all the humor in an awkward period of adolescence. The film is able to take the struggles that Nadine Franklin (Hailee Steinfield) goes through seriously, while still acknowledging that many of the feuds and conflicts she has are a result of her growing up and discovering what type of person she wants to be. Despite the frequent crass humor, the film does get surprisingly sincere, and Steinfield is able to make the character vulnerable.
One of the reasons The Edge of Seventeen ranks higher than many other high school comedies is that the supporting cast is filled with characters that challenge cliches. In particularly, Woody Harrelson gives a surprisingly touching performance as Nadine’s cynical, yet supportive teacher Mr. Bruner, and Blake Jenner is also wonderful as Nadine’s brother, a popular jock who cares for Nadine more than she knows. It’s an impressive debut for Kelly Fremon-Craig, who has established herself as a director to watch.
2. Swiss Army Man
This absolutely wild survival-adventure from Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert is a wonderful example of how even the strangest of premises can turn into a touching, heartfelt story of friendship. Hank (Paul Dano) is a traveler who becomes stranded on a desolate island with only one companion: Manny (Daniel Radcliffe), a talking corpse whose body can be transformed into a variety of different uses, similar to a Swiss Army Knife. The two form a strange friendship as Hank attempts to teach Manny about the world.
The conversations that the two have could easily come off as nothing more than freshman philosophy, but due to the strange circumstances by which the two are acquainted, their discussions give a sense of heart to an otherwise bonkers film. The filmmakers wisely keep showing what Manny is capable of as the film goes on, leading to many surprising moments, particularly towards the end, and it’s impressive that both Dano and Radcliffe make this odd friendship feel believable.
1. The Meyerowitz Stories
Noah Baumach’s first collaboration with Netflix is one of his best films to date, a moving take on a dysfunctional family that explores the ties that bind and divide people. Baumbach handles familial relationships better than nearly any other current filmmaker, and The Meyerowitz Stories features one of the best ensembles he’s ever assembled; Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, and Elizabeth Marvel play the adult children of retired sculptor Harold Meyerowitz (Dustin Hoffman), who gathers his family as he prepares to receive a lifetime achievement award.
The underlying theme of the film is how each of the children still wrestle with their relationship with their father, and how their father’s success caused them all to compete with each other. Adam Sandler has recently been getting the best reviews of his career for Uncut Gems, but he showed in The Meyerowitz Stories that he could be both comedic and dramatic, playing a more elevated version of the serial underachiever he plays in many of his comedies. The scenes of bonding between Sandler’s character Danny and his daughter Eliza (Grace Van Patten) elevate The Meyerowitz Stories into one of Baumbach’s most touching stories.