A ton of movies hitthis week. Which ones are actually worth watching? Well…
On Monday, fans of Zach Braff’s directing work can catch Going in Style (2017). It’s no Garden State, but the crime movie has an all-star cast, including Michael Caine, Alan Arkin and Morgan Freeman.
On Tuesday, you have animated movie Bright: Samurai Soul (2021). If you watched Bright (2017), the odd, poorly-received Will Smith live-action urban fantasy from a couple years back, this is a spinoff. Let’s hope the anime, set in the early years of Japan’s Meiji Restoration, fares a little better. Notably, Shang-Chi’s Simu Liu has a voice role.
On Wednesday, there are a couple of decently received international Originals: American-Chilean-Spanish horror Fever Dream (2021), and Polish crime drama Operation Hyacinth (2021).
On Thursday, try the very Black Mirror-esque A World Without (2021). The Indonesian movie is set in a dystopian future where dating is outlawed.
On Friday, give the well-received The Trip (2021) a go. The Norwegian action thriller follows a dysfunctional couple who go to a remote cabin under the pretence of working on their relationship. Secretly, they both have the same plan: To literally kill the other one. Perfect for a Friday night.
Notably, on Saturday, you can watch Victoria & Abdul (2017). The historical drama stars Judi Dench as Queen Victoria, who strikes up an unlikely friendship with an Indian clerk, played by Ali Fazal.
Last week’s arrivals include Ella Fitzgerald: Just One of Those Things (2019), There’s Someone Inside Your House (2021), Angeliena (2021), Grudge/Kin (2021) and LOL Surprise: The Movie (2021). For more, scroll down to find a list of best Netflix originals, including films Netflix acquired the rights to distribute in the US.
Best Netflix Original movies
The Dig (2021)
This fine British drama excavates a whole lot of buried treasure with a distinguished cast in Carey Mulligan, Ralph Fiennes, Lily James and Johnny Flynn. It’s based on the true events around the 1939 excavation of Sutton Hoo, yielding a priceless trove of Anglo-Saxon artefacts hidden in a burial ship. Romantic, intellectual and moving, The Dig is a full sweep of elegance.
While it’s not the next Sideways, Uncorked offers another look at people working in the wine business. Mamoudou Athie stars as Elijah, an aspiring master sommelier torn between his dream and his duty to his struggling family restaurant. The strained father-son relationship between Elijah and Courtney B. Vance’s Louis is handled with a welcome realism that elevates this sweet-tasting film. Worth cracking open.
A black-and-white David Fincher tale about the unsung screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz who helped Orson Welles write Citizen Kane. Step back into Old Hollywood, with beautiful cinematography and take in the behind-the-scenes of how studio systems functioned in a different time. Gary Oldman and Amanda Seyfried are among the exceptional cast of this biographical drama filled with the lightness and darkness of its hero’s life.
Pieces of a Woman (2020)
Falling into the movies that make you cry category, Pieces of a Woman is an emotional well that’ll steep you in melancholy. Martha’s home birth leads to a schism in her marriage as her life falls to pieces. Known for its opening 24-minute childbirth one-shot, this portrait of grief will ultimately take you to poignant places. Plus, see Vanessa Kirby put in her career best performance.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020)
An Aaron Sorkin drama based on a true story? The Trial of the Chicago 7 lives up to its pedigree, following the real-life trial of a group of anti-Vietnam War protestors charged with conspiracy to incite riots. With a stellar ensemble cast, including Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, The Trial of the Chicago 7 is both topical and full of compelling theatrical energy.
Marriage Story (2019)
A movie about divorce might not sound like the best viewing experience, but Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story is a journey you’ll want to take. Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver give two of the best performances of their careers as Nicole and Charlie, a couple who embark on the emotionally and logistically complicated legal processes involved in prying a partnership apart. Painted with an emotional complexity that includes poignantly funny moments along with the painful ones, this is happy-sad at its best.
The Two Popes (2019)
Set primarily in Vatican City, this biographical drama follows Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio in the aftermath of the Vatican leaks scandal. It’s as fascinating as it sounds. The Two Popes carves up a slice of real-life drama with a first-class two-hander featuring Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins.
Alfonso Cuaron’s semi-autobiographical snapshot of the Colonia Roma neighborhood of Mexico City tells a small story with staggering prowess. Let Cuaron steer you through the ups and downs of a live-in housekeeper of a middle-class family. His lens captures intricately beautiful scenes in an album that quietly envelopes you with wonder and grace.
Happy as Lazzaro (2018)
This Italian film has the seal of approval from Bong Joon-ho, so let’s listen to the Oscar-winning director of Parasite and add it to this list. Written and directed by Alice Rohrwacher, Happy as Lazzaro is set in the ’70s on a tobacco farm, where good-hearted young peasant Lazzaro dutifully works. When a nobleman convinces him to help him fake his own kidnapping, a story of friendship, innocence and social commentary unfolds. A gorgeously shot, cinematic fairytale.
Sunday’s Illness (2018)
This elegant Spanish film will steep you in its rich imagery and phenomenally good performances from its two leads. Susi Sánchez and Bárbara Lennie star as Anabel and Chiara respectively, an estranged mother and daughter who reunite for reasons that aren’t as clear as they first seem. The precision of the filmmaking here is worthy of soaking up for those who’re partial to deliberately paced meditations on pain, love and loss. Masterful.
The Kindergarten Teacher (2018)
Maggie Gyllenhaal gives a career best performance in The Kindergarten Teacher, a drama about, yep, a kindergarten teacher. Lisa is dissatisfied with her own life, which leads her to make some questionable decisions regarding one of her young students. When Jimmy exhibits child prodigy levels of poetry writing talent, Lisa may or may not take credit for it. The Kindergarten Teacher’s slightly disturbing character study might leave you feeling conflicted, but there’s no question about Gyllenhaal’s mesmerizing performance. Watch it.
Mudbound gives you a historical look at class struggle through the lens of a Black veteran and a white veteran who both still have one foot stuck in World War II. Dealing with PTSD and racism in the Mississippi Delta, with a cast that includes Garrett Hedlund and Jason Mitchell, Mudbound’s tempest will rivet you to the spot.
Two Lovers and a Bear (2016)
This lauded independent film from several years back showcases the talents of Tatiana Maslany, aka one Marvel’s newest heroes, who’ll be starring in the Disney Plus She-Hulk series. Before that, see her in Two Lovers and a Bear, alongside the similarly talented Dane DeHaan. The dark love story follows Roman and Lucy, two lovers living in small-town Canada. Roman can speak to bears, while Lucy believes she has a stalker. Become swept up in this surreal and thrilling adult fairy tale elevated by the chemistry between Maslany and DeHaan.
I Care a Lot (2020)
This propulsive, stylish comedy thriller is based on real-life crimes, which makes it all the more riveting. I Care a Lot stars a cooler than ever Rosamund Pike as Marla Grayson, a con artist whose figured out a way to exploit old people and take their assets by becoming their legal guardians. Crime lords, devoted criminal girlfriends and aviator sunglasses feature in this rip-roaring flick with a fascinating morally ambiguous lead character.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020)
A psychological thriller that dives deep into the surreal. I’m Thinking of Ending Things definitely won’t be for everyone, but it connects you to the frustrations of the young woman (Jessie Buckley) at its heart, who grapples with breaking off her seven-week-relationship with her boyfriend Jake (Jesse Plemons). While it overstays its welcome a little, I’m Thinking of Ending Things always keeps you on your toes, with atmospheric cinematography and strong performances from Toni Collette and David Thewlis as Jake’s fairly odd parents. Fans of director-writer Charlie Kaufman will be pleased.
The Call (2020)
Two movies named The Call came out in 2020. Watch the South Korean one, a time travel thriller revolving around, yep, a phone call. Twenty-eight-year-old Seo-yeon finds a phone buried in a closet in her childhood home. It rings — and the caller, it turns out, is living in the same house 20 years earlier. Twists right up to the final moment, plus a wild cat-and-mouse chase that alters the past and present make this a must-watch.
I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore (2017)
If you’ve had a bad day, this might be the movie for you. When the police refuse to help with a robbery, nursing assistant Ruth and her weird neighbor Tony take matters into their own hands. I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore spots the idiosyncrasies of everyday life, before escalating its story into dark places with even darker humor. With a touch of Coen Brothers’ flair, its perfectly packed 96 minutes will leave you surprisingly emotional.
You’ll be spending a lot of time with Mélanie Laurent (Inglorious Basterds) in this contained sci-fi thriller. Inside a coffin-like medical cryo unit, Laurent’s Elizabeth Hansen wakes up to find that she’s trapped, running out of oxygen and can’t remember why she’s there. Claustrophobic and high on tension, Oxygen is a solid sci-fi entry, efficient and satisfying, without breaking any ground.
Adjust your expectations for this astronaut sci-fi. With only a handful of main characters played as the most normal of people, this is grounded space fare focused on a moral dilemma: When ship captain Marina (Toni Collette) discovers a stowaway (Shamier Anderson), a life or death decision must be made. Oxygen’s running out and won’t be enough for their two-year trip to Mars. Anna Kendrick’s medical researcher Zoe emerges as the heart of the crew, though Collette’s intense deliberation as captain makes it all believable. Watch out for a divisive ending.
I Am Mother (2019)
I Am Mother might cover familiar sci-fi territory, but if you’re after some James Cameron and Ridley Scott-channeling thrills, you’re in the right place. We follow a young girl named Daughter, who lives in a post-apocalyptic bunker with her robot, named Mother, whose purpose is to aid the repopulation of Earth. This intriguing premise and setting is ripe for suspense and dark twists, which I Am Mother delivers in style.
The Platform (2019)
From Netflix’s impressive stash of international films comes Spanish sci-fi horror The Platform. Its high-concept story centers on a tower that delivers food to people on each of its many levels via a platform. Those at the top get the best and most abundant spread, which is devoured as the platform lowers down the levels. Social commentary rings throughout this dystopian thriller, which takes shocking, occasionally gruesome turns all the way to the bottom.
Vampires vs. the Bronx (2020)
Vampires vs. the Bronx is a unique comedy-horror in more ways than one. Set in the New York borough of the Bronx, it follows young Miguel Martinez, a big-hearted kid helping to raise money for his struggling local bodega before it’s forced to sell. But it’s not just new designer clothing stores threatening to move in: Creepy pale neck-chompers are eating up people and their properties. A commentary on gentrification with goofy charm, twists and thrills, Vampires vs. the Bronx is a fresh, entertaining spin on the genre.
His House (2020)
His House is a horror flick that hits close to home. Revealing its supernatural evils through a harrowing human story, it follows Bol and Rial, a refugee couple from Sudan, who struggle to adapt to their new life in an English town. Don’t expect straightforward jump scares — His House plays into the psychological specters of the past, adding even more corridors of torment. A heartrending, powerful piece.
Gerald’s Game (2017)
If you liked The Haunting of Hill House, then check out Mike Flanagan’s adaptation of Stephen King novel Gerald’s Game. Carla Gugino is immense as Jessie, who goes on holiday with her husband at an isolated lake house in Alabama. Largely sticking to a bedroom setting, we see the couple’s troubles go from bad to worse, with Jessie ending up in the impossible situation of being handcuffed to the bed with no one to help her escape. Gerald’s Game leads to narratively and emotionally satisfying conclusions, with Flanagan’s melancholy-suffused horror that surges into quiet triumph for its haunted characters.
Tennis-playing buddies Michael (Mark Duplass) and Andy (Ray Romano) receive devastating news: Michael has terminal stomach cancer. Struggling to let go of his dying friend, Andy joins Michael’s road trip in search of medication to end things before they get too painful. Folding comedy into melancholy, Paddleton eases the touching friendship at its core into deftly-affecting places.
Dolemite Is My Name (2019)
Eddie Murphy returned from his acting break with a glorious performance as Rudy Ray Moore, a comedian who played a character called Dolemite in stand-up routines and blaxploitation films from the ’70s. Dolemite Is My Name follows Moore from his job at a record store to the big screen. Tracking Moore’s rise to fame and its bizarre and enthralling turns, Dolemite Is My Name does justice to both Moore’s and Murphy’s talents.
The Meyerowitz Stories (2017)
The Meyerowitz Stories is a bittersweet comedy-drama told through Noah Baumbach’s grounded lens. The titular stories concern dysfunctional adult siblings, played by Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller, trying to live in the shadow of their father. An effervescent cast, including Dustin Hoffman, play these intelligent, albeit miserable, characters as they weave their poignant tales.
The Half of It (2020)
This original YA movie tells the story of Ellie Chu, a shy Asian American in the remote town of Squahamish discovering her sexuality. A straight-A yet friendless student who has a side-hustle writing papers for her classmates, Ellie helps footballer Paul Munsky write a love letter to Aster Flores. But it turns out Aster’s perfect for Ellie instead. A story of self-acceptance told with a delicate touch, The Half of It is a joy.
Always Be My Maybe (2019)
A rom-com with a Keanu Reeves cameo and a deep love of food, Always Be My Maybe might just have everything you could wish for. Chef Sasha and musician Marcus reconnect long after their brief fling as teenagers. Always Be My Maybe wraps you up in warm comedy that doesn’t always go to expected places.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018)
Aside from its unconventional name, this historical romance film is cosy fare that’ll cover all the right bases. It’s the 1940s and the island of Guernsey is under German occupation. Juliet Ashton (Lily James) and her friends avoid curfew by pretending they’re returning from a hastily made up book club. Later, Juliet decides to write about said book club, which goes ahead and becomes a real thing. With a little mystery, a whole lot of romance and the occasional tearjerking moment, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is prime period drama viewing.
To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018)
The YA book adaptation that rocketed Noah Centineo to heartthrob status. Playing off a charming concept, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before sees Lara Jean Covey (Lana Condor), a half-Korean, half-white girl growing up in Portland, Oregon, write letters to all the boys she has crushes on. Then her fun little sister sends them off without her knowing. While it hits all the comforting rom-com beats, there’s a layer of rare representation that gives this an edge over your average teen flick.
The Incredible Jessica James (2017)
The Incredible Jessica James introduces a delightfully self-possessed main character played by an equally delightful Jessica Williams. The confident and independent Jessica James goes on a blind date where she ends up talking about nothing but her ex. A fresh take on the breakup movie with an empowering lead, this is an easy hit for an entertaining night in.
The Mitchells vs. the Machines (2021)
One of the best new family movies has just hit Netflix. From some of the same people who made Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse comes this adventure to save the world involving Mom, Dad, the kids and their slobbery, bug-eyed dog. But amid the robot apocalypse, led by Olivia Colman’s sinister Siri, really The Mitchells vs. the Machines is about a strained relationship between movie-loving daughter Katie and her technophobe father. The technology-inept parent gags are rife, the colors frenetic and the character growth moving. A near-perfect package with the timeless message that embracing your weirdness is a superpower.
You guessed it — this one’s about Christmas. But Klaus isn’t a conventional Santa tale. It spins an alternative origin story for the big guy with inspiration from history’s Saint Nicholas of Myra. In a fictional 19th-century island town to the Far North, we follow a postman who befriends a reclusive toymaker named Klaus. Along with its beautifully hand-drawn animation, Klaus is a unique, complex take on holiday generosity.
I Lost My Body (2019)
This award-winning French film begins with a severed hand escaping a refrigerator in a laboratory and embarking on a Paris-wide search for the rest of its body. What an opening! With a few flashbacks and elegant animation, this strange, satisfying story delves into loss, both physical and emotional, in the most poetic of ways.
News of the World (2020)
Tom Hanks in a Western directed by Jason Bourne’s Paul Greengrass. Enjoy Hanks going full Mandalorian single dad mode as Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a Civil War veteran who discovers a young girl years after she was captured by Native Americans as a baby. In between helping to return her to her family, he does his usual job of traveling to towns and reading newspapers for a small fee. Don’t expect high-octane action: This road movie is fueled more by character development and the beautiful views. Still, you’ll want to settle in for a comforting ride with pure sympathetic Hanks at the steering wheel.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
The Coen Brothers kick up the western dust with an anthology film that gives you six vignettes all set on the American frontier. One of them is about the titular Buster Scruggs, a chipper singing cowboy who casually sets off a shoot-up in a cantina. But there’s a dark twist that keeps you on your toes. Sewing the rest of its stories together with a constant black humor, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a Coen Brothers winner.
2017’s Okja comes from Parasite director Bong Joon-ho — which should be incentive enough to watch it. Part cheeky dark comedy, part surreal environmental thriller, Okja follows a young South Korean farmer girl whose pet pal is a genetically enhanced super-pig. But Okja is the target of a big corporation that wants her delicious flesh. With an English supporting cast including the likes of Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal, Okja sucks you in with its sweetness before showing you a distressing close-up of the meat industry.
Da 5 Bloods (2020)
Spike Lee’s fierce war drama follows a group of aging Vietnam War veterans who return to the country in search of the remains of their squad leader — as well as buried treasure. With a frenzied energy coursing through it, Da 5 Bloods gives you a look at the Vietnam War through Black experiences, delivering an all-too-timely critique of racism and warfare.
The Irishman (2019)
Spanning the lives of its mobsters over multiple decades, The Irishman pulls off a 3-and-a-half-hour crime saga. But don’t worry — you can break up this tour de force if you need to. Always clever and entertaining, with Martin Scorsese favorites Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci commanding the screen, The Irishman creeps up on you, offering a haunting look at aging mobsters and the havoc they wreak.
Beasts of No Nation (2015)
Director Cary Joji Fukunaga gives you a sobering look at the life of a boy who becomes a child soldier in a West African country embroiled in civil war. Idris Elba stars as the ruthless Commandant along with the astonishing Abraham Attah as the young Agu. A confronting yet quietly hopeful snapshot of war from a human perspective, Beasts of No Nation needs to be on your radar if it isn’t already.
Movies coming in 2021 and 2022 from Netflix, Marvel, HBO and more
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