I really get it: Light and fluffy movie viewing is the perfect antidote to the craziness that's going on in the world right now. But dramas can honestly be just as fun—not only do you get some comedy and romance thrown in there, but they can hit your heart in a major way. Who doesn't need a good cry every now and again? (I know I do.) These Netflix dramas have all the best elements: a compelling story, interesting characters, a good plot, and angst aplenty. With these, you can dip a toe into something serious without burning yourself out. Plus, an added bonus is that a number of these films are classics, so you can catch up on your required movie viewing at the same time.
To All the Boys I've Loved Before
Please. Like I wasn't going to include this one. It's a dramatic comedy, but all the best parts are the sexy romantic entanglements—seriously, I will fight anyone who doesn't like this. Noah Centineo and Lana Condor are just so freakishly cute together that I'm not surprised TATLIB fans 'ship them IRL. It's the best kind of film that can appeal to a tween and a thirty-something (raises hand sheepishly) with a main character that's awkward, sweet, and relatable. This is the perfect pick if you just want your drama light.
This may be a historical drama, but don't let that stop you. This film is brilliant and beautiful and packed with sex and violence. Elizabeth (Cate Blanchett, rightly nominated for an Oscar) goes from terrified young woman to queen and then to power personified in the span of just a couple hours. The toll it takes on her—particularly the slow repression of her sexual love and autonomy—is fascinating. It's like watching someone blossom, then wither, as she becomes the job she's inherited. This was the first film I ever saw that made me realize that reimagined history can be the most interesting kind of storytelling.
I realize that a lot of people only know about this movie because of the Oscars craziness surrounding it, which is a shame. This film is so beautiful. A young, poor, gay, Black child grows up amidst tremendous abuse and suffering, somehow managing to survive because of few pivotal moments of kindness. It's about big stuff, but the focus is on this beautiful character and the beautiful moments that help him cling to himself. It's a magnifying glass on a kid who otherwise might be overlooked, and it gives a whole world of meaning to the person he ultimately becomes. It's one of the most beautiful films I've ever seen.
In case you're curious, this is the film that made Alicia Vikander a star. A young man (Domhnall Gleeson) takes part in a Turing Test to determine if robot Ava (Vikander) comes off as human. She's literally made out of glass and wires, but her human face and soft emotional vulnerability is so lifelike that it's trippy. No surprise, things go badly wrong in this modern tale about the dangers of technology; But, even if you don't care about that at all, it's so interesting as a story that it won't matter.
The King's Speech
Love you, Mr. Darcy! (Yes, I know, Colin Firth isn't the only Mr. Darcy, but he's the only one I need.) If you love a good royals romance—and I know you do—this one's a lovely historical piece. King George VI (that's the father of QEII to you) hates speaking in public because of a pervasive stutter, which humiliates him and makes him the object of scorn. He enlists the help of unconventional speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush, also one of my movie crushes). What follows is an inspiring tale combined with a historical buddy comedy that just gets better every time I watch it.
This is the second film on this list with Domhnall Gleeson in it—I just love him, okay?? Despite a slightly twisty premise, it's a lot simpler and less stressful than Ex Machina. A man inherits the ability to travel through time and IMMEDIATELY uses it to try and improve his dating life. This dramedy is about love and loss, with Rachel McAdams (always welcome) and Bill Nighy (the best ever). It's not a perfect film, but if you're looking for something sweet that'll also make you cry, this is it.
This was mis-labeled as a pure horror film like The Exorcist, so the reactions from fans and critics were confused. It's more of a drama with horror elements, and it centers around a family of New England pilgrims trying to survive in the middle of the woods. No surprise, creepy shit starts to happen. Anya Taylor-Joy, in addition to being good in just about everything, has the perfect look for the role. She's simultaneously innocent and growing into her own sexuality, which is why the family blames her for everything that happens (the original slut-shaming!). It's got modern themes, despite being firmly rooted in the past. Oh and it totally does get terrifying, eventually, so it's a cool watch start to finish.
Dolemite Is My Name
In case you're a little less familiar with Eddie Murphy (some of his classic movies are a bit dated for younger viewers) let this be an intro into how funny he is. Dolemite is the persona of Rudy Ray Moore, singer, comedian, actor, and finally producer. He failed at a lot of those things until he struck it big with Dolemite, a character he used in standup comedy and then in blaxploitation films. Even if you don't have historical context on any of these things, you'll still love it. Murphy proves that he can always carry a film with his energy and charisma, and I'm so glad to see him on my screen again.
Y Tu Mama Tambien
If you love romantic dramas, give this one a spin. It's a coming-of-age story that's also (spoiler) a coming-out story between two teens who are BFFs and then, for a brief moment, something more than that. It's not a happy story, per se, but it's gorgeous and filled with longing, and absolutely captures the energy of the young and sex-obsessed. It's also quietly devastating in parts, which makes it a rich watching experience.
Snowpiercer is now a TV show with the amazing Daveed Diggs, so go ahead and put the original film that inspired it on your list. It's a unique post-apocalyptic vision that has so much to look at—all of humanity exists in clearly defined sections of a train that circles the globe. This is Bong Joon-ho before Parasite, and I'd argue this film is just as good. Chris Evans takes on a role that's the exact opposite of Captain America (he had to wear an oversized coat to cover how jacked he was, since he was doing both roles at roughly the same time), and he absolutely nails the non-superhero drama.
Sleeping With Other People
This definitely leans in on the "comedy" in dramedy, but the premise is actually semi-serious: Two people who hooked up a long time ago happen to be in the same meeting for love addicts, then they decide not to have sex to help each other become better people. Because it has Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie in it, of course, it's designed to be funny, but I was surprised by how the movie never makes its leads one-dimensional or the object of our our derision. It's fun, but it's also a smart device for us to root for them as a couple and root for them to be better people at the same time.
Timothée Chalamet. That's it, that's all you need. Oh and Robert Pattinson (he's not in it a ton, but he proves yet again what an awesome actor he is). This is a modernized version of a group of Shakespeare's historical dramas, but don't let that turn you off. This is just as good as Elizabeth at bringing to life the political drama of the time, but managing to make it relevant if you don't usually care about that kind of stuff. Casting Chalamet is a genius move, because he's always delivering a new, interesting performance. Oh and he's hot, despite an objectively terribly haircut.
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