25 Hidden Gems on Netflix Canada You Need to Watch Right Now
From overlooked Hollywood fare to international cinema's best-kept secrets, we've rounded up the finest hidden gems on Netflix Canada.
The Squid and the Whale (2005)
Being a child of divorce can be complicated and heartbreaking—in the case of The Squid and the Whale, it can also be funny. Set in 1980s Brooklyn, this Academy Award-nominated indie comedy charts the separation of a blowhard writing teacher (Jeff Daniels) and a fed-up literary agent (Laura Linney). Their two young sons (Jessie Eisenberg and Owen Kline), meanwhile, cope with the proceedings in equally amusing and bizarre ways.
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The Sisters Brothers (2018)
With The Sisters Brothers, acclaimed French filmmaker Jacques Audiard gives a much-needed jolt to the American Western. In the 1850s, hitmen Eli and Charlie Sisters (John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix, at their ramshackle best) shoot their way across the Oregon Trail in search of Warm (Riz Ahmed), an eccentric prospector who may or may not hold the invention of the century. The Sisters Brothers’ offbeat tone might be confusing on first watch—fortunately, this unsentimental and surprisingly funny flick only gets better with repeat viewings.
Sam & Kate (2022)
After a chance meeting at a church parking lot, aspiring artist Sam (Jake Hoffman) falls for bookstore owner Kate (Schuyler Fisk), while Kate’s idiosyncratic mom (Sissy Spacek) becomes interested in Sam’s cantankerous dad (Dustin Hoffman). Regrettably marketed as a run-of-the-mill rom-com, Sam & Kate quickly moves past its “real-life family” casting gimmick to say two or three insightful things about finding love after tragedy. (Its observations on aging and familial dysfunction are just as astute.)
The Wedding Guest (2020)
Jay (Dev Patel) wants to move through Pakistan undetected—he uses paper maps instead of apps, switches rental cars and gives out fake names to everyone he meets. That’s because Jay’s on a mission: arriving from England, he’s to rescue bride-to-be Samira (Radhika Apte) from an arranged marriage and bring her to her ex-boyfriend, who has paid Jay a substantial sum of money. This being a film noir, things don’t go as planned, but The Wedding Guest’s predictability is countered by the fact that every second feels astonishingly real.
In terms of language, situations, feelings and yes, skin, the Academy Award-nominated Closer is a decidedly adult affair. It follows two couples, Anna and Larry (Julia Roberts and Clive Owen) and Alice and Dan (Natalie Portman and Jude Law), and a series of betrayals—both big and small—that threaten to pull each pairing apart. Squeamish viewers may find Closer to be an especially nasty bit of business, but rest assured: your patience will be rewarded with evocative dialogue, show-stopping performances and one or two insights on the ugly side of love.
Jason Sudeikis stars as Matt Ryder, an A&R rep whose week just went from bad to worse. Dangerously close to being fired from his job at a New York City record label, he later learns from nurse Zooey (Elizabeth Olsen) that his estranged father, Ben (Ed Harris), has terminal cancer. What’s more, Ben, a famous photographer, has one last wish: for the trio to drive to Parsons, Kansas, where the last Kodachrome photo lab is about to close its doors. Stinging insults and family wounds abound in this heartfelt road trip movie.
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Emily the Criminal (2022)
Just as 2014’s Nightcrawler held a mirror to our relationship with mass media, Emily the Criminal exposes how capitalism has failed Millennials. Burdened with student loans but unable to get a well-paying job because of a criminal record, Emily Benetto (Aubrey Plaza) unwittingly takes part in a credit card fraud scheme run by Youcef (Theo Rossi). As Emily begins to crave more and more cash, however, the thin line between right and wrong all but vanishes.
Close Enemies (2018)
Navigating Netflix’s catalogue of international movies might seem like a daunting task, so take it from us: Close Enemies, a gritty French crime-drama starring Matthias Schoenaerts (The Old Guard) and Reda Kateb (Zero Dark Thirty) is well worth your time. Set in the suburbs of Paris, criminal Manuel (Schoenaerts) survives a botched drug deal that results in the death of his partner; suddenly finding himself the target of both the police and the Arab underworld, he reluctantly teams up with Driss (Kateb), an old friend who now works as a cop.
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Frances Ha (2012)
“I’m so embarrassed, I’m not a real person yet,” says the kooky Frances Halladay (the brilliant Greta Gerwig), a marginally employed dancer living in New York City with her best friend, Sophie (Mickey Sumner). After their moving plans collapse and the two have a falling out, Frances realizes that her days of pursuing her outsized dreams are numbered. With notable supporting turns from Adam Driver and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s Michael Zegen, Frances Ha is a charming coming-of-age comedy about a 27-year-old scatterbrain.
The Stranger (2022)
A real gem in Netflix’s never-ending stream of true crime fare, this striking enigma of a film takes inspiration from a real-life abduction case that grabbed Australian headlines for more than a decade. The Stranger follows Henry (the criminally underrated Sean Harris), a troubled drifter who may or may not have murdered a young boy eight years earlier. Unbeknownst to Henry, his latest employer, Mark (Joel Edgerton), is an undercover cop set on extracting a confession, even at the risk of Mark’s own mental state. Director Thomas M. Wright wisely refrains from pop psychology or exploitation—instead, he and cinematographer Sam Chiplin create a world in which past and present, dreams and nightmares, live together always.
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Though Maud Lewis would become one of Canada’s most famous painters, the artist’s reclusive nature left her personal life a bit of a mystery. Director Aisling Walsh and screenwriter Sherry White (Saving Hope) aim to change that with Maudie, an understated but moving character study starring Sally Hawkins as Lewis and Ethan Hawke as Everett, a fish peddler who later becomes her husband. Exploring the couple’s sometimes uneasy relationship, Lewis’s rise to national fame and her own tumultuous upbringing, this hidden gem is buoyed by fearless performances and a commitment to the power of art.
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The Dig (2019)
The chance to find priceless treasures, learn more about our past and become famous in the process—it’s no wonder archaeology is such a popular field. But for the characters in The Dig, it’s a lot more complicated than that. As the Second World War approaches, Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan), a wealthy Suffolk landowner, hires Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes) to excavate the burial mounds on her rural estate. Their project soon draws the attention of a team of archaeologists, including Peggy Piggott (Lily James), but the impending war leads to deep rumination for all involved. Intimate in design but grand in feeling and performance, this hidden gem poses the most common—and most troubling—of life’s questions: Will I be remembered after I die?
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Happy as Lazzaro (2018)
Magical realism abounds in Happy as Lazzaro, which follows a young peasant living on a tobacco farm in Southern Italy. Despite being exploited by his tyrannical boss, Lazzaro is so kind-hearted he’s often mistaken for being simple. Things take a turn when Lazzaro meets young baron Tancredi, who asks Lazzaro to help him orchestrate his own kidnapping.
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And Breathe Normally (2018)
Meet Lára and Adja: the former is an Icelandic single mother in dire financial straits, while the latter is an asylum seeker from Guinea-Bissau. When Lara takes a job with the local airport police, she crosses paths with Adja, who is later held at a refugee centre with her immigration status in peril. Socially resonant and led by two captivating performances from leads Kristín Þóra Haraldsdóttir and Babetida Sadjo, And Breathe Normally is a tragic portrait of two women in free fall.
During the Battle of Mosul, in which ISIS took over what was once Iraq’s second largest city, the Nineveh SWAT team, an elite police unit made up of local men who have had family members killed by ISIS, embark on their final mission. The newest recruit of the SWAT team is Kawa, a 21-year-old police officer who is immediately taken under the wing of unit leader Jasem (Suhail Dabbach). Directed with uncommon intelligence and empathy by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Mosul combines visceral action scenes with real heart.
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Ladies in Black (2018)
Is it possible for a film to be so utterly sweet that you watch it from beginning to end with a smile on your face? Ladies in Black takes the challenge head-on—and mostly succeeds. This Australian comedy-drama centres on Lisa (Angourie Rice of Spider-Man fame), a Sydney teen who takes a part-time job at an upscale department store during the 1959 Christmas season. There she meets the store’s colourful characters, including Magda (Julia Ormond), a Slovenian immigrant who was once a member of high society in her past life, and who nurtures Lisa’s dream of going to university and becoming an actor, poet or novelist. The lesson of Ladies in Black: why not all three?
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Private Life (2018)
Middle-aged couple Richard (Paul Giamatti) and Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) have been trying to have a child for years—they have faced multiple failed attempts at artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization, while a teenager whose baby they hoped to adopt has stopped contacting them. Things are looking hopeless, until the couple’s 25-year-old niece, the bohemian Sadie (Kayli Carter), agrees to provide a donor egg to Rachel. Wonderfully acted and remarkably written, Private Life is a poignant look at the difficulties of starting a family in the 21st century.
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The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018)
In 1946, writer Juliet Ashton (Downton Abbey‘s Lily James) learns of a book club the residents of Guernsey formed during the German occupation of WWII. She decides the quirky group—the titular Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—will be the subject of her latest article. In the process of writing the feature, she forms a bond with the island’s inhabitants, while also investigating the whereabouts of the club’s mysterious founding member.
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In this supernatural romantic drama, 17-year-old Ada, set to marry a wealthy man, falls in love with young construction worker Souleiman. After Souleiman and his colleagues are denied payment for work on a new tower, they decide to leave Senegal by sea in search of a brighter future, only to perish on the journey. Following a mysterious fire, Ada discovers that the souls of the men lost at sea have returned to the neighbourhood.
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Blue Jay (2016)
Two decades after their break-up, former high school sweethearts Jim (Mark Duplass) and Amanda (Sarah Paulson) rediscover each other in their hometown grocery store and decide to spend the day strolling down memory lane. The initial sweetness of their reunion slowly gives in to sadness, however, as Jim and Amanda bond over the unhappiness of their current lives and romantic paths not taken.
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The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (2019)
In Malawi, 13-year-old William Kamkwamba spends his spare time fixing radios for neighbours and devouring engineering books at his school library. Inspired by his readings, William builds a wind turbine to save his village from famine. Based on Kamkwamba’s memoir, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is one of the most inspiring movies on Netflix Canada, and an impressive directorial debut by actor Chiwetel Ejiofor.
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I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore (2017)
When depressed nursing assistant Ruth (Melanie Lynskey) returns home one day to learn that her grandmother’s silverware has been stolen, she enlists her peculiar neighbour Tony (Elijah Wood) to help her find the violent gang of criminals responsible. Look past its offbeat title, and you’ll find that I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore is a darkly funny tale about the importance of kindness.
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The bromance between Michael (Mark Duplass) and Andy (Ray Romano) is upended when Michael is diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer. Per Michael’s wishes for his final days, the two make pizzas together, watch kung-fu movies, play a game they’ve dubbed “Paddleton,” and go on a road trip to retrieve the medication that will help Michael end his life. It may be about death, but Paddleton‘s blend of comedy and drama is always life-affirming.
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The Kindergarten Teacher (2018)
The Kindergarten Teacher stars Maggie Gyllenhaal as an educator who discovers one of her five-year-old students is a poetry prodigy. Dissatisfied by her home life and failed artistic aspirations, she finds new purpose as a mentor to her pupil, but that initial encouragement turns into an unhealthy obsession with the boy.
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End of Watch (2012)
Police officers Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Pena) patrol the streets of South Central Los Angeles, often finding themselves in the crosshairs of rival gangs. After investigating a house fire, they stumble upon a cell full of human trafficking victims and learn that the home is connected to a powerful drug cartel. The partners soon fear that their lives—and the lives of their families—are in danger.
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