The 20 best films to watch on MUBI right now, from Return to Seoul to Close

Ji-Min Park as Freddie in Return to Seoul (Handout)
Ji-Min Park as Freddie in Return to Seoul (Handout)

One of the streaming platforms that has really come into its own over recent years is MUBI, home of foreign-language favourites, cult hits and undiscovered gems.

For years, the service worked by recommending a new film every day, with a rolling selection of movies that expired after 30 days.

Now, the service has expanded its selection with a permanent library of films. The selection marks MUBI as one of the best places to discover the kind of interesting, esoteric movies that are often bypassed by other, more mainstream streaming services.

Here we narrow down these brilliant films by choosing our pick of the 20 best films to watch on MUBI right now.

And, even better, the Standard has partnered with MUBI to offer readers 30 days of free streaming. So if this sounds like your cup of tea, find out more here.

The Draughtsman’s Contract

Surreal, cerebral and elegant, legendary British director Peter Greenaway’s 1982 comedy (only his second feature-length film) is arguably the best of his many excellent period dramas. Set in rural Wiltshire, the story follows what unfolds when aristocratic woman Mrs Virginia Herbert hires a young artist to create landscape drawings of her country house. As part of the contract Mrs Herbert must adhere to the artist’s sexual demands – which naturally leads to high drama, hilarity and even a murder.

Red Desert

Michelangelo Antonioni's first colour film tells the story of wife and mother Giuliana (Monica Vitti) who is struggling to return to normal life after a month-long stay in hospital. She's pretending to hold everything together for the sake of her family, but her mental state is deteriorating. Set against the backdrop of an industrial estate, the film, which won the Golden Lion at Venice in 1964, is seen as a comment on the effect of technological advancements on the human spirit.

Adaptation

Nicholas Cage stars as an imagined version of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman in this hilarious meta comedy-drama written by Kaufman. Cage’s Kaufman is a balding, anxious writer with writer’s block. His more free-spirited twin brother (also played by Cage) comes to stay and the story follows their adventures as fictional Kaufman tries to write the screenplay for Susan Orlean's The Orchid Thief. Zany and surprising, Meryl Streep stars as Orlean with a twist, while Chris Cooper, Brian Cox, Tilda Swinton, Ron Livingston, and Maggie Gyllenhaal also feature.

RAMS

This lovely Icelandic film from Grímur Hákonarson tells the story of two highly competitive sheep farmer siblings, Gummi and Kiddi, who haven’t spoken for 40-years despite both living next door to one another in the same remote town. When news breaks that all sheep in the valley need to be slaughtered due to a degenerative disease, discovered among a flock, Gummi hides a few rams and ewes in his basement because they are the last of their breed. Obviously sheep are difficult animals to keep quiet, and things come to a head once the biohazard team arrives. United by their love of the rare sheep, the brothers finally start working together again.

Daughters of the Dust

Daughters of the Dust is over 30 years old, but Julie Dash’s award-winning film about three generations of Gullah (an African American ethnic group) women living on a sea island off the coast of South Carolina in the early 20th century still resonates as much as it did in 1991. Its exquisite visuals and colours, the poetic, almost choreographed sequence of the actors’ movements in many of the scenes, and their placement in each shot, made the film a hit with critics: when it was first released it was described as “mesmerizing”, “spellbinding” and “mysterious, fabular and sometimes dreamlike”. What a treat for MUBI subscribers that it’s now available.

The Good, The Bad, The Weird

This Korean Western-comedy directed by Kim Jee-woon and starring Jung Woo-sung (Cobweb), Lee Byung-hun (G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra) and Song Kang-ho (The Host, Parasite) is a brilliant take on Sergio Leon’s 1966 spaghetti Western The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. While individually hunting down a treasure map, the three cowboys cross paths. There are horse races across deserts, rifle fights on trains, explosions, motorbikes, more explosions, and face-to-face duels. In other words: so much fun.

Return to Seoul

This 2022 drama written and directed by Davy Chou (Diamond Island) follows Korean-born Freddie (the utterly magnetic Ji-Min Park) who was adopted by a French family as a baby. Now, aged 25, she ends up in Seoul after her flight to Tokyo gets diverted. Almost accidentally, she contacts her birth parents, which, predictably, not only changes the tone of her trip but of the course of her life. Smart, thought-provoking, funny, and with an incredible score by Jérémie Arcache and Christophe Musset, this acclaimed film lingers in your mind.

Pacifiction

A thriller set on the French Polynesian island of Tahiti, Pacifiction tells the story of French high commissioner Monsieur De Roller (Benoît Magimel) who has to look into a rumour about indigenous representatives on the island.

Spanish filmmaker Albert Serra has become known for producing ‘anti-narrative’ works that seem to be more interested in ambience rather than plot, and Pacifiction adopts this approach. But, somehow, the slow ebb still produces thrilling effects. The New York Times said that danger and violence lurk “around the edges of the movie... It suggests John le Carré by way of David Lynch — a feverish and haunting but also wry and meditative rumination on power, secrecy and the colour of clouds over water at sunset.”

The Guardian also found Pacifiction intoxicating, saying “It is a nightmare that moves as slowly and confidently as a somnambulist... I can only say I was captivated by the film and its stealthy evocation of pure evil.”

The Five Devils

This thrilling 2022 film from French director Léa Mysius, which has only just landed on MUBI, tells the story of a young girl, Vicky (Sally Dramé), who has extraordinary olfactory powers. Vicky’s world changes when her father’s sister Julia (Swala Emati), a pyromaniac, comes to stay. Julia has a history with Vicky’s mother, Joanne (Adèle Exarchopoulos), and the sexual tension between the two women starts to grow. “Adèle Exarchopoulos excels in this dark, elemental drama,” said Empire. “A sensory delight that marks Léa Mysius as a filmmaker to get excited about.”

Close

Belgian film director Lukas Dhont is only 31 years old, but already has over forty awards and nominations under his belt, including an Oscar nomination this year for Close. His 2018 feature-length debut, Girl, told the story of a 15-year-old trans girl who is trying to become a professional ballerina. In Close, Dhont once again explores identity, this time telling the story of two boys, Léo and Rémi, whose friendship starts to draw attention from their schoolmates. Mark Kermode said the film was “achingly poignant”.

Shiva Baby

Emma Seligman’s directorial debut starred Rachel Sennott as Danielle, a disorganised college student who has a sugar daddy. After they have sex, she runs to join her parents at the shiva (Jewish post-funeral observance event) of a distant relative which is being held at her aunt Sheila’s house. But who should also turn up but Max (Danny Deferrari), her sugar daddy? And as if things aren’t awkward enough, it turns out that Max is married, and his wife, Kim (Dianna Agron) is also there. The BFI called it a “slick, sly comedy of New York Jewish manners” and Vulture said: “Shiva Baby is the most humid movie you’ve ever seen.”

High Life

Claire Denis’ strange sci-fi High Life centres on the lives of convicted criminals cast adrift in space, on a doomed mission to harvest the power of black holes. Robert Pattinson gives one of his strongest performances as a lost soul responsible for looking after a young child on board the ship. Juliette Binoche is also excellent as the obsessive Dr Dibs, who attempts to create new life through artificial insemination. The film’s non-linear narrative only adds to the film’s bewildering feel.

Holy Spider

This excellent thriller from Iranian filmmaker Ali Abbasi is based on the true story of a serial killer who stalked the streets of Mashhad (Iran’s second most populous city) in the early Noughties. In Abbasi’s vivid reimagining of the bloody case, Zar Amir Ebrahimi stars as Arezoo Rahimi, a journalist who starts to investigate the murders.

The Innocent

Directed by and starring Louis Garrel (The Dreamers, Little Women), comedy-thriller The Innocent tells the story of a prison theatre teacher Sylvie (Anouk Grinberg) who falls for an inmate, Michael (Roschdy Zem). When he is released, the two get together, which her son Abel (Garrel), is less than thrilled about. He starts spying on Michael with the help of his friend Clémence (Noémie Merlant), but their sleuthing backfires and the pair end up being pulled into one of Michael’s schemes.

Bacurau

This 2020 gem became one of the most acclaimed foreign-language films of the year when it arrived in 2019. The contemporary western tells the story of Brazilian villagers who are attacked by gun-wielding tourists, and the Standard’s Charlotte O’Sullivan described it as “agonisingly suspenseful” and “laugh out loud funny” in her five-star review. She went on to say: “Bacurau is in the same class as Parasite. In the words of Bong Joon Ho, 'Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.'"

The Staggering Girl

This arresting piece from Call Me By Your Name director Luca Guadagnino is one of the more interesting short films found on the site. With superb performances from a cast, including Julianne Moore, Mia Goth, KiKi Layne and Kyle MacLachlan, the story follows a New York-based writer who encounters geniuses and oddballs on her journey to retrieve her mother from Italy.

Beanpole

Two young Russian women attempt to rebuild their lives following the siege of Leningrad in WWII in this historical drama. In among the crumbling buildings, the pair look to find peace, serenity and hope in testing circumstances. Russin filmmaker Kantemir Balagov won the FIPRESCI Prize for Best Film in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes in 2019 for the film.

Toni Erdmann

This German comedy directed, written and co-produced by German filmmaker Maren Ade, became a surprise international hit in 2016 after winning over audiences around the world. It tells the story of Toni (Peter Simonischek), a divorced father with a penchant for practical jokes, who makes a concerted effort to reconnect with his daughter.

Paterson

Jim Jarmusch’s last film bombed, but the movie that came before is far more worthy of attention. Adam Driver stars as the titular character in this meta-movie (playing a bus driver and poet called Paterson, who lives in the town of Paterson) who makes his way quietly along his bus route, visiting New Jersey bars and spending time with his supportive wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani). The mumbling tone of the film isn’t for everyone, but there’s joy to be found within it.

Night Moves

A group of eco-warriors led by Jesse Eisenberg are the focus of this underrated thriller from director Kelly Reichardt. The movie deals with the fallout from a crime committed in the name of preventing climate change, with the net closing in tighter around them. The film went under the radar on its release in 2013 and took less than $1m worldwide, but it’s far better than its box office performance suggests.

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