17 Best Original Movies On Criterionchannel

Staff & contributors

Thanks to technological and artistic innovations, in the past couple of decades inventiveness in film has become truly limitless. From novel formats to unusual scripts and cinematography, here are the most original movies and shows to stream now.

Find the best original movies to watch, from our mood category. Like everything on agoodmovietowatch, these original movies are highly-rated by both viewers and critics.

It’s a testament to Agnès Varda’s remarkable ability to glean so much raw beauty and truth from the world that this autobiographical documentary is such a rewarding watch, even for people unfamiliar with her. The Beaches finds the pioneering director in reflective mode as she looks back at her work and life, but her artistic impulses are by no means stagnant: she approaches the past with the same — if not more of the — generous candor and youthful spirit that colored her career.

It’s also a testament to Varda’s inimitable artistic touch that she turns a usually-bleak subject — mortality — into something this life-affirming. The Beaches was made when she was 81, aware of her own ticking clock and still nursing the decades-long loss of so many loved ones (chiefly, husband Jacques Demy). Just as her grief-stricken reflections don’t overwhelm the film with sadness, the whimsical impulses she indulges here — like constructing a beach on the street in front of her office — don’t blunt the sharpness of her candor. The overall effect is bittersweet and profoundly inspiring: as with the mirrors she places in front of the tide in the film's first scene, she’s showing us it’s possible to face the inescapable with a twinkle in your eye.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: Agnès Varda, Gérard Depardieu, Harrison Ford, Jane Birkin, Mathieu Demy, Rosalie Varda

Director: Agnès Varda

The Iranian director Jafar Panahi has faced constant persecution from his country's government for over a decade, for his career of sharply political films speaking truth to power. In fact, No Bears—which was shot in secret, in defiance of the government banning him from filmmaking for 20 years—had its initial festival run in 2022 while Panahi was in prison. Evidence of Panahi's drive to keep making his movies, no matter what, are clear in this film's limited resources and occasionally inconsistent video quality. But even those obstacles can't get in the way of his vaulting ambition.

No Bears operates on several different layers that all express Panahi's growing frustration with—but also his commitment to—making art that only ever seems to put himself and other people in harm's way. At its base level, this is a suspenseful small-town thriller, as an exiled Jafar Panahi (playing himself) tries to evade suspicion from the villagers around him. At the same time, Jafar is struggling to direct a film remotely, which creates a strain on his production crew. On top of that, the characters in his film undergo their own drama, seeking asylum out of Turkey. All of this is edited together under a stirring screenplay written with heart, humor, and the hope that the institutions that try to scare us will never keep us in the dark forever.

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: Jafar Panahi, Naser Hashemi

Director: Jafar Panahi

Fear of abandonment is at the heart of The Vanishing. Lovers Rex and Saskia are separated on their way to France after the latter vanishes without a trace. For the next three years, Rex dedicates his life to finding out what happened to Saskia in whatever way possible, endangering his own safety in the process. George Sluizer’s chilling psychological thriller shows the evils that curiosity and obsession can bring, and is a uniquely perverse look at the ugly side of truth-seeking.

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Bernadette Le Saché, Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu, Gene Bervoets, Gwen Eckhaus, Johanna ter Steege, Pierre Forget, Roger Souza

Director: George Sluizer

Despite the amusing specificity of its title, this lovely documentary from director Les Blank is really for all of us. Through the example of gap teeth — a physical feature many of the participants here report being made to feel self-conscious about — the film makes a rallying call to embrace ourselves and all of our physical “flaws.”

A big part of what makes this film so heartening is that so many of the women featured here (including model Lauren Hutton) have come out on the other side of loathing their gap teeth, giving us a tangible example of what it looks like to love yourself in spite of other people’s opinions about your body. What’s more, even within a limited runtime, Blank finds space to devote to exploring other aspects of the featured women’s lives — their art, professions, religious practices — and thereby quietly expands the film’s focus from physical beauty and onto the myriad beauties of life itself. It’s an ironic pleasure that Gap-Toothed Women ultimately refuses to define its subjects by the very feature described in its title, and instead gives us this life-affirming shot of wisdom for the ages.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Lauren Hutton, Lauren Moore, Sandra Day O'Connor

Director: Les Blank

In Cameraperson, documentarian and cinematographer Kirsten Johnson creates an incredible patchwork of her life—and her life’s work. Johnson has been behind the camera of seminal documentaries like Citizenfour, The Invisible War, and The Edge of Joy. Here, Johnson stitches together fragments of footage, shot over 25 years, reframes them to reveal the silent but influential ways in which she has been an invisible participant in her work. 

In one segment, Johnson places the camera down in the grass. A hand reaches into the frame briefly, pulling up weeds that would otherwise obscure the shot. Cameraperson is a must-see documentary that challenges us to reconsider and reflect upon how we see ourselves and others through the camera lens, and beyond it.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Jacques Derrida, Kirsten Johnson, Michael Moore, Roger Phenix

Director: Kirsten Johnson

Rating: Not Rated

Krzysztof Kieślowski’s drama stars Irène Jacob as two identical women living separate lives, and the intricate and indelible ways in which they are bound together. While Weronika, a Polish singer, balances her familial duties and intimate romantic relationship, a French music teacher named Véronique senses that she is not alone.

The Double Life of Véronique’s hypnotic and entrancing qualities will wash over you like a tide crashing over a bed of sand. It is a tough film to capture in words, when so much of it is just beyond words—Kieślowski’s film is one to be seen, sensed, and experienced. 

Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Mystery

Actor: Alain Frérot, Aleksander Bardini, Bogusława Schubert, Chantal Neuwirth, Claude Duneton, Gilles Gaston-Dreyfus, Guillaume de Tonquédec, Halina Gryglaszewska, Irène Jacob, Janusz Sterninski, Jerzy Gudejko, Kalina Jędrusik, Lorraine Evanoff, Louis Ducreux, Philippe Volter, Sandrine Dumas, Thierry de Carbonnières, Władysław Kowalski, Youssef Hamid

Director: Krzysztof Kieślowski

Rating: R

A harrowing family loss sets off a poetic exploration of grief in this experimental film from Haitian-Canadian filmmaker Miryam Charles. The focus of the movie is Charles’ own cousin, who was found murdered in her Connecticut bedroom in 2008. Rather than let her cousin’s life remain frozen at that point in time, Charles unmoors her film from the cold realities of time and space to suggest new perspectives on the girl’s past and imagine a future that never came. While events like the family’s decision to move to the US are recast as portends of tragedy, there’s also deep generosity in the movie’s ghost story — such as the joyous scenes it depicts from a mother-daughter trip to the family’s home country of Haiti, a trip that never actually took place.

It’s not always easy to discern where or when we’re at in its liberal toggling between time and space, but once Cette Maison establishes its unconventional visual language, everything comes into poignant focus. Given the reality on which it’s based, this is undoubtedly a heartbreaking watch, but the way Charles’ movie evokes the ability of imagination to both deepen and assuage the pain of grief is nothing short of revelatory.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Fantasy

Actor: Ève Duranceau

Director: Miryam Charles

At the risk of being cliché, I'm going to state that only the French could have made a movie about racial issues and the troubles of youngsters in the suburbs and still make it elegant. I've tried looking for other adjectives, but I couldn't find one that better describes those long takes shot in a moody black and white. But despite the elegance of the footage, the power of the narrative and the acting makes the violence and hate realistic as hell, dragging you into the story and empathizing with the characters until you want to raise your arm and fight for your rights. Aside from this unusual combination of fine art and explicit violence, the most shocking thing about La Haine is how much the issues it addresses still make sense right now, even though the movie was released 20 years ago.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Abdel Ahmed Ghili, Andrée Damant, Benoit Magimel, Bernie Bonvoisin, Choukri Gabteni, Christophe Rossignon, Cut Killer, Edouard Montoute, Florent Lavandeira, François Levantal, François Toumarkine, Heloise Rauth, Hubert Koundé, Joseph Momo, Julie Mauduech, Karim Belkhadra, Karin Viard, Laurent Labasse, Marc Duret, Mathieu Kassovitz, Mathilde Vitry, Nabil Ben Mhamed, Olga Abrego, Patrick Médioni, Peter Kassovitz, Philippe Nahon, Rywka Wajsbrot, Saïd Taghmaoui, Sandor Weltmann, Sébastien Tavel, Solo, Souleymane Dicko, Thang-Long, Vincent Cassel, Vincent Lindon, Virginie Montel, Zinedine Soualem

Director: Mathieu Kassovitz

Rating: Not Rated

Les Glaneurs et la Glaneuse (The Gleaners and I) is one of the late Agnès Varda’s great documentaries. The film follows “gleaners”—scavengers and collectors of discarded garbage or abandoned items—from the French countryside into the city. The first of Varda’s subjects recalls, “Gleaning, that’s the old way,” marking a clear distinction: old versus new, rural versus urban, wasted versus repurposed.

Fans of Varda will recognize the signature tenderness with which she approaches both her subjects and their objects. Those new to her work will be sure to find something familiar in this documentary: a film largely about loss, but which approaches its ideas of modernization and time with humor and lightness. Among the rubble, there is joy yet to be found—and in this documentary, there is a great comfort, too, to be gleaned.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Agnès Varda, Agnès Varda, Bodan Litnanski, François Wertheimer, François Wertheimer

Director: Agnès Varda, Agnès Varda

Rating: 0, Not Rated

Often considered Claire Denis’ best film, Beau Travail is an epic exploration of both masculinity and colonialism. Inspired by Melville’s Billy Budd, she transplants the story to Djibouti where the French Foreign Legion run seemingly aimless drills in an arid desert landscape while largely alienated from the local community. 

Denis inverts the male gaze and imbues charged eroticism to the bodies in motion as the men train and wrestle. Accompanied by the music of Britten’s Billy Budd opera, these movements transform into a breathtaking modern dance. Underneath her jaw-dropping direction is a cutting allegory on repression, desire, and violence, working on both the individual and geopolitical level. This incredible tale is capped off by one of the best end credit sequences of all time. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Dan Herzberg, Denis Lavant, Gianfranco Poddighe, Grégoire Colin, Michel Subor, Mickael Ravovski, Nicolas Duvauchelle

Director: Claire Denis

Rating: Unrated

The Earth Is Blue as an Orange chronicles the lives of a single mother and her four children as they live in the war-torn Donbas region of Ukraine. Despite the constant threat of violence, the family finds solace in the arts (more specifically in filmmaking). While striving for normalcy in these tumultuous times, they channel their efforts into creating a film about the effect of war on their family. Even as they try to lead individual lives, nurturing this collective project, bombs, debris, and their reality is unavoidable. 

This film is a moving testament to the power of art, creativity, and hope in the darkest times. 

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Director: Iryna Tsilyk

Once banned by Chinese censors, Suzhou River depicts love and obsession amidst the gritty, urban underbelly of Shanghai. As the film is portrayed through an anonymous videographer, seen only by his hands, it’s easy to fall in love as he does, with the mesmerizing Meimei (Zhou Xun), performing as a mermaid in a dive bar. However, he can’t seem to trust her, as she flits in and out of his life, with no clear notice. Likewise, the tragic romance told by motorcycle courier Mardar can’t be trusted, given that the river’s inhabitants warped it into folklore. Faces can’t even be trusted, especially with the double casting of actress Zhou Xun as Meimei and as innocent rich daughter Moudan. Because of these contrasts and its ambiguity, Suzhou River sweeps us into an alluring, mysterious tale, but reminds us not to get caught by the current.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Jia Hongsheng, Zhou Xun

Director: Lou Ye

While it would be easy to make comparisons to The Good Place and other shows and films dealing with the afterlife, Hirokazu Kore-eda's film is devoted to a single thing: commemorating the ordinary moments that make our life precious. Through little more than workplace banter and documentary-style interviews (with an ensemble delivering uncannily naturalistic performances), After Life reminds us how beautiful the mundane can be and how important it is for us to be present for each other in the everyday. And as the fim's characters prepare to create reenactments of each person's most precious memory, Kore-eda also defines filmmaking itself as an act of comfort and empathy. No existential crises here; an overwhelming sense of peace floods After Life, making it all the more memorable.

Genre: Drama, Fantasy

Actor: Akio Yokoyama, Arata Iura, Erika Oda, Hisako Hara, Kazuko Shirakawa, Kei Tani, Kotaro Shiga, Kyōko Kagawa, Miyako Yamaguchi, Natsuo Ishido, Sadawo Abe, Sayaka Yoshino, Susumu Terajima, Tae Kimura, Takashi Naito, Taketoshi Naitô, Tōru Yuri, Yûsuke Iseya

Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda

The film for which Kristen Stewart became the first American actress to win the César Award. The Twilight star turned indie prodigy plays next to another award favorite, Juliette Binoche, as her assistant. When rehearsing for the play that launched her career many years earlier, Binoche's character, Maria, blurs the line between fiction and reality, her old age and her assistant's young demeanor, and the romance story portrayed in the play and her own life. The movie itself is stylized as a play, adding another interesting layer of artistic creativity to the complex plot line. A film for film lovers.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Aljoscha Stadelmann, Angela Winkler, Benoit Peverelli, Brady Corbet, Caroline De Maigret, Chloë Grace Moretz, Claire Tran, Gilles Tschudi, Hanns Zischler, Jerry Kwarteng, Johnny Flynn, Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, Lars Eidinger, Luise Berndt, Nora von Waldstätten, Nora Waldstätten, Ricardia Bramley, Sean McDonagh, Steffen Mennekes

Director: Olivier Assayas

Rating: R

, 2004

Director Wong Kar-Wai made this loose sequel to one of the best films ever made, his 2000 classic In the Mood for Love. Much of the story is set around Christmas eve.

In the far future, people take a train to the world of 2046, where no sadness or sorrow can be experienced. No one has ever returned from that world except for a lonely Japanese writer, who narrates the first part of the film.

There are four acts to the story and as is common to Wong Kar-Wai, they are listed in non-chronological order. Not that you will care but 2046 is far from confusing. Instead, it functions as a dazzling visual poem on unreciprocated love.

Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Romance, Science Fiction

Actor: Akina Hong, Ben Yuen, Berg Ng, Carina Lau, Chang Chen, Chen Chang, Ching Siu-Lung, Dong Jie, Farini Cheung, Farini Cheung Yui-Ling, Faye Wong, Gong Li, Jie Dong, Li Gong, Maggie Cheung, Ping Lam Siu, Siu Ping-lam, Takuya Kimura, Thongchai McIntyre, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Zhang Ziyi, Ziyi Zhang

Director: Kar-Wai Wong, Wong Kar-wai

Rating: R