Netflix puts out more stuff than anyone could possibly watch. That's part of their strategy. They want to be the only service that their users need to watch endless reams of movies and television. What that means, at least in part, is that the streaming service has started producing original films. These films come from every conceivable genre and can be about virtually anything.
Many of the movies that Netflix produces are designed purely to be good enough. After all, they're meant to be just another thing that you put on as you're surfing through the site. Some of Netflix's original films are truly great though. These movies can compete with the best movies that are released in a given year, even though you may watch them at home instead of in a movie theater.
Roma is one of the latest entries on this list, and also one of the very best. Alfonso Cuaron intensely personal film follows a housemaid in the 1970s in Mexico City. It's a carefully constructed masterpiece told entirely in black and white, and it features stunning performances from all of its central actors.
The story at the film's center is one that attempts to appreciate its central characters selflessness. She treats everyone with kindness and has endless reserves of energy. She's the kind of hero that often goes unsung, but in Roma, Alfonso Cuaron gives her a chance to shine.
The wonderful thing about Netflix is that, like a movie studio, it can make every kind of movie imaginable. Roma lives at one end of the movie-making spectrum, and To All the Boys I've Loved Before lives at the other. Following a young girl dealing with relationship woes, the film is a pitch-perfect teenage romantic comedy.
It even comes with two remarkable performances from Lana Candor and Noah Centineo. Netflix didn't single-handedly revive the romantic comedy genre, but it did help make it a little bit cooler. To All the Boys I've Loved Before was a big reason for that shift.
On more than one occasion, Netflix has also put its financial weight behind something truly odd. I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore, which has an insanely long title, follows a depressed woman who goes on a search for her stolen things. With the help of a real odd-ball, she finds herself wrapped up in a larger criminal plot she doesn't belong in.
This story is not in itself revolutionary, but the way director Macon Blair chooses to tell it certainly is. Using surreal imagery and off-kilter dialogue, the film keeps audiences off-balance until the very last strange moment.
The Coen brothers are another pair of directors that had a long career before they ever worked with Netflix. While The Ballad of Buster Scruggs isn't the pinnacle of their work, it's nonetheless a great meditation on violence, death, and the stories we tell about the old west.
The Coens have always been really good at highlighting the horrific implications of violence. Their films are about the nature of good and evil. This film, in particular, considers who we define as a hero. It tells six short stories that both tie into and reflect on one another.
Maggie Gyllenhaal may be one of the world's most underrated actresses. The Kindergarten Teacher is yet another example of a slam-dunk performance from the actress that has gone largely unrecognized. The film follows Maggie's character, a kindergarten teacher, as she discovers that one of her students is uniquely gifted.
From there, the film takes a number of twists and turns that are fascinating and often uncomfortable. Maggie has a gift for playing complex characters that are difficult to root for, and this film is no exception. The Kindergarten Teacher is a thrilling and compelling watch, even if it isn't always a comfortable one.
Jake Johnson doesn't often get a chance to flex his dramatic chops, but when he does, he's quite good. In Win it All, Jake plays a gambling addict who comes across an absurd amount of money right as he's about to give up that life.
Jake is delightful as a regular guy with a terrible compulsion. The movie doesn't play out along typical dramatic beats. Instead, it focuses on what Jake's character might be thinking, and audiences are asked to watch as he continues to gamble. What makes the whole thing even worse is his inherent likeability. You want to root for him, even when he's being an idiot.
Set It Up is not one of the best romantic comedies ever made. Having said that, it is one of the best romantic comedies to come out this decade. Following two personal assistants who set their bosses up, the film is a great look at what it's like to be 20-something and married to your job.
Like all great romantic comedies, the film is buoyed by its central performances. The film has loads of charisma, and it's that charisma that makes every scene work. The cliches that make romcoms effective are tried and true. Set it Up uses a lot of them, and does so quite effectively.
Private Life is an intimate, personal drama about infertility. It's a movie that's dark and funny and recognizes that there's no conflict between those two ideas. Featuring wondrous central performances from Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn, the film unfolds as a lived-in tragedy about a couple that can't have children.
The brilliance of Private Life stems chiefly from the way infertility hangs over everything else in their lives. Director Tamara Jenkins frames her characters as normal people in abnormal circumstances. She gives you a chance to feel everything. That's what makes the movie so affecting. It doesn't hide any of its emotions from you.
The Haunting of Hill House was one of Netflix's most popular offerings this year. Before that show's creator took the time to make it, though, he directed Gerald's Game, a smart thriller based on the work of Stephen King.
After a woman accidentally kills her husband during a kinky sex game, she begins to see things. Because she's handcuffed to the bed, she's forced to deal with those visions with no hope of escaping them. The film is thrilling and terrifying in equal measure. It's one of the scariest movies that Netflix has ever produced, and that's to its enormous credit.
Although this movie was critically acclaimed and directed by Angelina Jolie, it largely flew under the radar. Following a young girl who is trained as a child soldier in 1970s Cambodia, the film isn't exactly easy to watch. Even so, it's valuable for the story that it tells.
The devastation that struck Cambodia in the 1970s was horrific, and Angelina chose to use this film to shine a light on it. One of the things film is best at is shining a light on new worlds and experiences. With First They Killed My Father, Angelina Jolie set out to do just that.
Okja is one of the stranger movies on this list. It tells the story of the relationship between a young girl and a genetically modified animal. When a greedy CEO sets her sights on the animal, the young girl at the film's center goes ahead with a sweeping rescue mission.
The results of that mission prove almost impossible to predict, but the world that Okja creates is vivid and poignant. There's nothing like a story about the relationship between animals and people, and this movie takes advantage of that fact. On top of that, it layers in smart commentary about capitalism and will leave you thinking you might want to be a vegetarian.
This is another Netflix title that has largely flown under the radar but is well worth checking out. Tramps tells the story of two young criminals who cross paths and might even fall in love. It's a crime movie and a romance movie rolled into one, and it manages to handle both sides of that equation well.
Although it isn't a big production, Tramps is the kind of small, independent movie that knows how to do more with less. It's a surprisingly romantic film that nevertheless has a compelling plot and some terrific central performances. Without Netflix, it's the kind of film that might be hard to find.
Shirkers is a wildly inventive documentary that speaks to another benefit of the Netflix model. It's unlikely that many people would have seen this film in a theater. On Netflix, though, people can stumble across this intriguing story.
The film tells the story of one of Singapore's very first independent films, and how it was lost forever. It's a compelling mystery story that also works as an examination of how three women have changed as they aged. It's a shame that the original film never saw the light of day. Still, this documentary more than makes up for that lost film.
One of the few Netflix original movies that are animated, The Little Prince is moving in the way that all good animated films should be. It tells the story of a young girl who meets an aviator and is opened up to a world of adventure and possibility.
In the process, she learns what truly matters in life. Animated films can afford to be sentimental in ways that live action films often can't. They can be about what it means to lead a good life without seeming preachy or condescending. The Little Prince is great because its ideas are clear, and they're well-executed in the story it tells.
Part of what makes Netflix so valuable is the way it's able to give talented directors the freedom to do whatever they want. Noah Baumbach had a long career as a director prior to working with Netflix, but The Meyerowitz Stories is among the director's very best work.
Telling the story of three siblings and their tortured relationship with their father, it features outstanding performances from Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller. It's a great film about family, and how the problems kids have with their parents don't disappear as you age. They're always going to be open wounds activated by the slightest touch.
The Fyre Festival may be one of the most fascinating failures in the history of massive events. What was supposed to be a massive party for the super rich turned out to be a total disaster. Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened tells the story of that disastrous event with remarkable attention to detail.
The film goes through a minute-by-minute breakdown of how everything went so terribly wrong. The whole thing would be a lot harder to watch if the rich people involved didn't normally live in the lap of luxury. As it is, the documentary is a fascinating look at how a massively marketed event could end up stranding hundreds of attendees on an island.
Gareth Evans is widely regarded as one of the best action directors alive. It was a surprise to some, then, when he decided that his next movie would be a horror film that is somewhat devoid of action. It tells the story of a young man in 1905 who returns home only to discover that his sister has been kidnapped by a religious cult.
The journey that man takes to get his sister back is perilous, but it's thrilling to watch. It's an absorbing movie filled with plenty of grotesque imagery. Apostle also benefits from Gareth's sharp direction, which brings specificity to every detail of the film.
Mudbound is a beautiful, specific film about racism and war in the early 1900s. The film follows two men who return home from war to work a Southern plantation. One is a charming white man, while the other is the eldest son of a black sharecropping family.
Mudbound is stunning in the way that it tackles the racial issues at the film's center. There's a reason it was Netflix's big Oscar play at the 2018 ceremony. It has a fascinating, complex point of view. It's also a truly epic film, one that examines every one of its central characters in detail.
Child soldiers are something of a theme in Netflix original films. Beasts of No Nation tells the story of a young boy who is trained to fight in an African civil war. The film features a memorable and dark turn from Idris Elba. It's also got the sharp direction that has come to characterize Cary Fukunaga's career thus far.
Beasts of No Nation was the first film Netflix ever released that felt designed for some awards consideration. Although it ultimately didn't receive any awards, the film announced Netflix's presence as a major awards player. This film paved the way for others to win some Oscars.
Zombie thrillers aren't always the most original material, but they're often quite effective. Ravenous tells the story of a small Canadian village that becomes infected with a virus that turns victims against their loved ones. It's an effectively terrifying film that knows how to work within its budget.
Netflix engages really well with small budget fare because it's able to market it to huge numbers of people. These subscribers are seeing films that they may never have otherwise seen. Netflix knows that, because they don't have to leave their couch, they'll watch anything good. Ravenous feeds those subscriber's enormous appetites.
Bandersnatch may be part of the highly-popular Black Mirror series, but it is most definitely a film in its own right. The interactive project made waves after its release in December 2018 for its entirely unique usage of the Netflix platform with its choose your own adventure plot. Bandersnatch follows a young programmer named Stefan as he tries to adapt a fantasy novel into a video game in the 1980s while he plunges deeper into his own paranoia and madness.
The Other Side Of The Wind
Orson Welles died in 1985 after a prolific career in theatre, radio, and film. Orson Welles also directed this feature-length film released by Netflix in November 2018. This final film from the prodigy-turned-legend was unfinished until recently. It's an experimental mockumentary following a doomed auteur during his final hedonistic day on Earth in the 1970s. The Other Side Of The Wind had been locked in a legal prison since before Orson died until Royal Road Entertainment finally broke the film free in 2014.
Lazarillo de Tormes is the subject of an oft-studied Spanish text The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes and of His Fortunes and Adversities, published in 1554. While that Lazarillo isn't necessarily the inspiration for our Lazzaro in Happy as Lazzaro, there must have been some inspiration pulled from that classic text when creating the eternally happy and equally accident-prone protagonist of this 2018 movie. Lazzaro is a sharecropper whose life is shaken up by a midpoint twist, and his response is an inspiring show of rising above the fray.
High Flying Bird comes from director Steven Soderbergh a.k.a. the most prolific indie filmmaker of our time. André Holland plays an NBA talent agent who tries to shift the balance of power away from the league's corporate honchos back to the hardworking players along with his "assistant" Sam, Zazie Beetz. If you're a fan of basketball, boardroom dramas, or Aaron Sorkin, this Netflix Original is a must-see.
My Happy Family
My Happy Family follows Ia Shugliashvili's Manana, a Georgian teacher and mother who decides to leave her family to live alone and finally focus on herself for a change, something all of our mothers have threatened to do at one point or another. This is not Eat, Pray, Love. Long-kept family secrets are revealed as this contemplative drama asks heavy questions and leaves the audience wondering if they can ever really be answered.
The World Is Yours
The same man who created M.I.A.'s controversial "Born Free" music video, Romain Gavras, has gone into full-length films with this Jamie Foxx-accompanied crime comedy, wherein a goody two shoes named François, played by Karim Leklou, just wants to run a soda company. Too bad his mother, Isabelle Adjani, and her companions would rather he help their heroin smuggling business. François is determined to find a way out, whether it's through using a gangster's daughter or the raging anti-Muslim sentiments running through France.
Houda Benyamina cast her younger sister Oulaya Amamra as leading lady Dounia in her directorial debut, following Dounia's attempts to get out of her Romani community through the neighborhood drug trade. In this coming-of-age, teenage foibles have higher stakes as Dounia and her sidekick Maimouna get their first glimpse of what life could hold outside of home. Come for the rare experience of a film filled with female gaze and stay for the melancholy realness of growing up.
On Body And Soul
Move over, Jim and Pam. Endre and Mária's office crush takes workplace love to an entirely new level at their truly disturbing slaughterhouse job, meeting regularly in their dreams as a stag and a deer, not knowing what to make of their recurring etherial rendezvous. This is the type of untested, idealistic love that sustains them through the insanely difficult trials they'll face as a result of an office incident and Mária's autism.
Dumplin' was set up for success in the best possible way: lived-in young adult source material, Jennifer Aniston, and plentiful references to Dolly Parton. If you're looking to be fully wrapped into a universe like you've known it your entire life, Dumplin' will live up to expectation with a 'yeehaw' and a 'bless your heart.' What could have been a repeat of the disastrous Insatiable is instead its direct foil, a *thoughtful, uplifting* film about society's obsession with weight that doesn't put all of its eggs in that singular basket.
The Russian biographical film Dovlatov tells the story of writer Sergei Dovlatov, artfully portrayed by Milan Marić. Sergei is one of the most popular Russian writers of somewhat modern days, known for his journalism and underground short stories. An immigrant in the USA and Europe for twelve years, Dovlatov shows a few days in Sergei's life while still living in Leningrad on the night of his friend, future Nobel laureate Joseph Brodsky's, emigration while Sergei is still determined to stay in Soviet Russia.
The Breaker Upperers
This New Zealand rom-com stars its writers and directors, Madeleine Sami and Jackie van Beek, as two best friends who create an agency that helps facilitate break-ups. Through some zany misunderstandings, the girls' friendship is tested when one begins dating one of their clients, and the other become best friends with a wronged woman. The pair try to rebuild their lives while deciding whether or not it's actually okay to break the hearts of strangers.
Journey To Greenland
This French comedy could have gone so wrong. Two white people being transformed by exotic locals in a faraway land is, at best, touch and go, but director Sébastien Betbeder manages to come through unscathed with a respectful bro's take on Eat, Pray, Love. Two actors-turned-slackers named Thomas (yes, both of them), visit an Inuit village and actually listen for a change. There are very few cliches and a lot of warmed hearts in this frozen tundra.
An oldie but a goodie, this 2016 biographical drama follows future U.S. president Barack Obama while at Columbia University in the early 1980s. An 80% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes can't be wrong, but this is also a nice reminder of a time way back when during the Obama presidency. You know, when we had a real president and not a nuclear Cheetoh Puff in office. Barry isn't for people who hate Barack Obama, but to be fair, I doubt Obama haters are our main demographic at The Whisp.
Another global rom-com, Catching Feelings is a South African movie starring, directed, and written by Kagiso Lediga. It follows a young, academic couple living in the big city and the complete upheaval of their life when a hedonistic celebrity writer moves into their home. The film has a 100% fresh certification on Rotten Tomatoes, with critics praising the film's "cultural specificity," daring intimate scenes, and beautiful shots of Johannesburg.
Before I Wake
This 2016 horror film stars Kate Bosworth as a mother and Room's Jacob Tremblay as her foster child who displays frightening powers. His dreams create magic in the waking world, but his nightmares create horrific manifestations of his night terrors. Helmed by Oculus director Mike Flanagan, Before I Wake might not be the scariest movie you see this year, but anything that lets wunderkind Jacob do his thing is worth a watch.
This Taiwanese family drama follows an unconventional trio: mother San Lian, son Song Zheng Yuan, and Song's late father's lover, Ah Jie. Lian intends to use her son to fight for the insurance payout that is rightfully theirs but was left to Jie after the family patriarch's death. Instead, Yuan chooses to side with the outsider, beginning ad darkly funny saga of grief, hatred, and acceptance. It's an award-winning must-watch if you're looking for a domestic drama.
Like Father probably won't change your life or solved your fractured relationship with your father, but anything with Kristen Bell in a leading role has a certain je ne sais quoi of darkly comic optimism. With Kelsey Grammar as the titular father and Seth Rogan starring as a romantic interest for Kristen's character, the cast alone speaks to the quality of the film as a well-done retreading of common rom-com tropes. After Kristen's character is left at the alter, she ends up on her honeymoon cruise with her estranged workaholic father.
Bilbo Baggins vs. a zombie apocalypse: Who would win? If this is the question that keeps you up at night, this 2017 thriller might be the answer to all of your problems. Martin Freeman stars as a father trying to protect his infant daughter as he traverses across a post-apocalyptic zombieland alongside an Aboriginal girl and her infected father. And that's not even the dramatic part. This character-driven dystopia might be the antidote to a genre that's been bitten by a *real* monster: generic plotlines.
The Skin Of The Wolf
This Spanish folk drama is a violent spectacle by debut director Samu Fuentes that puts the "art" in "arthouse film." The plot itself treads familiar territories of simple moralistic themes, but the atmospheric soundtrack and stunning visuals are a living gallery of art right in your home. Suffering from a script that doesn't match the power of its auteur and its cast, The Skin of the Wolf is so close to great, you'll forget what's missing.
Awkwafina can do no wrong, and sparkly Lucy Hale, Alex Wolff, Katheryn Prescott and Alexandra Shipp aren't too shabby themselves. Dreamboat Austin Butler rounds out this cast of teen stars in a film that's surprisingly poignant and more than a little depressing. The marketing for Dude does a disservice to the coming-of-age dramady by focusing on its hard-partying instead of its captivating portrayal of grief, moving on, and holding tight to what's good. The ridiculous amounts of weed are just an added bonus.
Time Share is shockingly creepy for a film supposedly centered on a vacation stay most commonly frequented by the elderly and scam victims. This Mexican thriller follows two men as they attempt to rescue their families from a nice vacation after their paranoia convinces them that an American timeshare company is secretly plotting to kidnap its guests through cult brainwashing. Think "Hotel California" by The Eagles meets Rosemary's Baby.
Netflix doesn't have the ~best~ track record with adapting beloved manga and anime series. See: Death Note, Fullmetal Alchemist. Thankfully, their 2018 release Bleach was actually produced by a Japenese team and doesn't star a member of the Naked Brothers' Band, which is the bare minimum required of a good live-action manga adaptation. Another plus? It explains the series' mythology in a way that's accessible to new viewers without boring its dedicated fanbase to tears.
This buzzy (pun not intended) Netflix Original stars Jake Gyllenhaal doing what he does best: Being super creepy. Don't let that beautiful face or his cookie cutter early-2010s romance with Taylor Swift fool you. Jake was put on this Earth to make people feel very, very uncomfortable, something he does well in Velvet Buzzsaw. The film also stars John Malkovitch as Jake's character has a total mental break and haunted paintings gruesomely murder a ton of people. It's gross and psychotic and so, so fun.
This 2016 mockumentary has a crazy-talented comedic cast lead by Jane Lynch and featuring Parker Posey, Fred Willard, and Jennifer Coolidge, who has never made a bad movie. Watch as a truly terrifying number of sports mascots compete for the World Mascot Association's highest honor, the Gold Fluffy Award. In classic Christopher Guest fashion, actors were given no rehearsal time and asked to improvise most of the scenes during filming. It worked for This Is Spinal Tap, and it works here.
Have you ever wondered what a Canadian horror film would look like? If you were imagining a killer that politely apologizes before stabbing a Mountie, who then apologizes for being stabbed, you'd be wrong. Good guess, though! Instead, this haunted house horror thriller follows a very polite live-in nurse who is hired to work in a house that is definitely haunted. The period piece isn't anything new, but there's been a disappointing lack of gothic horror movies in theatres, and what it lacks in originality it makes up for in mood, eh.