13 best Netflix movies of 2019
'Tis the season for end of year lists!
As we reflect on the pop culture of 2019, one thing is for certain: It's been a really great year for Netflix. In particular, it's been a great year for Netflix films.
The streaming service released more than 100 movies this year, including 30 movies that had a limited theatrical run. Now many of those films, like The Irishman, Marriage Story, The Two Popes, and more, are dominating the awards season conversations.
Of those 100-something films, I managed to watch 63 (keep in mind I started covering films at Decider in March, and also, that I am one person).
This includes films that Netflix produced, films that Netflix acquired for distribution, films that Netflix acquired for distribution after a limited theatrical run, documentaries, music films, and foreign films. There was a lot of good, a lot of bad, and a lot of mediocre. But I managed to distil down what I think are the best 13 films Netflix original films of 2019, roughly ranked. (But again: This is a list of 13 out over 60 films. If it made the list, I really liked it.)
EL CAMINO: A BREAKING BAD MOVIE
Most see El Camino - which furthers the story of Breaking Bad's Jesse Pinkman - as a pretty good extension of a very good TV show. Nonetheless, considering that that TV show was so good Decider named it the best show of the decade, and considering that El Camino is technically a Netflix movie, it would feel wrong to leave this crime thriller from writer/director Vince Gilligan off the list.
TELL ME WHO I AM
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Tell Me Who I Am is the most compelling documentary - and maybe the most compelling film - on Netflix. Director Ed Perkins expertly lays out this page-turner story of two twin brothers, Alex and Marcus Lewis, one of whom lost his memory in a motorcycle accident when he was 18. When the brothers' parents prove to be less-than-helpful in Alex's slow recovery, it becomes Marcus's job to tell Alex his life story. The result is a jaw-dropping, dark, and tragic tale that I'll let you watch for yourself.
Warning: This film deals with traumatic subjects, including sexual abuse.
THE TWO POPES
The Two Popes is an old man movie in every sense of the word. It is literally about two old men, albeit two very important ones: Pope Benedict XVI (Anthony Hopkins) and the soon-to-be Pope Francis (Jonathan Pryce). And yet, this imagined conversation between the two men, when Pope Benedict XVI made the historic decision to step down in 2013 - from director Fernando Meirelles and writer Anthony McCarten - won me over. It helps that Hopkins and Pryce are perfectly cast and so very, very good. Shout out to editor Fernando Stutz as well. That sound mixing!
Someone Great, from writer/director Jenn Kaytin Robinson, manages to hit all the cheesy rom-com beats you crave while elevating the genre beyond its more tiresome tropes. Starring Gina Rodriguez as a heartbroken Millennial after breaking up with her long-term boyfriend (Lakeith Stanfield), this is a romantic comedy where the woman chooses herself but doesn't disparage the beauty of romantic love. That's huge! It doesn't hurt that Someone Great also gave us one of the funniest scenes of the year for rising star comedian, Jaboukie Young-White.
This surreal fantasy film from first-time Senegalese filmmaker Mati Diop is both bizarre and elegant. It's part ghost story and part social commentary but ultimately a tragic romance about a working-class Senegalese woman named Ada (Mame Bineta Sane) whose true love dies at sea. It's technically beautiful - Diop finds something to glitter in every shot - and bursting with compassion for characters who don't often get it.
DOLEMITE IS MY NAME
Dolemite Is My Name is the best Eddie Murphy's been in years - and possibly ever. Though it's a tough Oscar race for Best Actor this year, Murphy certainly has a shot. From director Craig Brewer and writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, this biopic of blaxploitation star Rudy Ray Moore is the perfect combo of boisterous fun and genuine heart.
Empire's Da'Vine Joy Randolph, who is irresistibly charming as Moore's "protégé" Lady Reed, was one of my favourite supporting performances of the year. As a bonus, Dolemite contains a scene where a man expresses vulnerability about exposing his body on screen. We love to see it!
KNOCK DOWN THE HOUSE
If you're despairing about the state of politics - as any sane person headed into the year 2020 is - watch Knock Down the House. This documentary from director Rachel Lears follows the primary campaigns of four progressive Democratic women running for Congress in 2018 - including, of course, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, who beat the odds and became the youngest woman to serve in Congress. You'll come away from this film not only believing Ocasio-Cortez's vision for a better country but maybe, just maybe, believing in the power of democracy.
I LOST MY BODY
I Lost My Body might be the strangest film I watched on Netflix this year and also the most beautiful. An animated French film from director Jérémy Clapin, it tells the surreal story of a disembodied hand crawling around Paris in search of its owner. This movie succeeds on multiple levels: As breathtaking art, as a gripping mystery, and as a cathartic coming-of-age story. It's almost definitely going to be nominated for an Oscar. Don't miss it.
HOMECOMING: A FILM BY BEYONCÉ
Beyoncé Knowles has become almost a mythical figure of pop culture, and that's not an easy thing to capture for any filmmaker. Kudos then to Queen Bey, who wrote, directed and executive produced this concert film herself. The achievement that is her 2018 Coachella performance - aka Beychella - is nothing short of historic and on full display in this film. Credit, too, to editors Alexander Hammer, Andrew Morrow, Nia Imani and Julian Klincewicz for peppering in behind-the-scenes and home video footage, making this documentary both a jaw-dropping spectacle and an intimate overview of the pop star.
ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE
Ali Wong and Randall Park's near-perfect romantic comedy has everything: pining, sexual tension, laugh-out-loud jokes and the best Keanu Reeves cameo in history. Thanks to Wong and Park's irresistible chemistry - as long-lost friends reconnecting and falling in love - and director Nahnatchka Khan's attention to detail, it was exactly the kind of fresh, adorable film you want from a Netflix rom-com. Also, "I Punched Keanu Reeves" is a verified banger.
Martin Scorsese's The Irishman has been a long time coming, and the director - along with cinema legends Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci - did not disappoint. In many ways, the film is classic Scorsese: a funny, fast-paced gangster film based on the life of Frank "The Irishman" Sheeran and his role in the disappearance of union leader Jimmy Hoffa in 1975. But by the end of its three-and-a-half-hour run time, The Irishman also offers something new: a slow-moving reflection on ageing, mortality and the passage of time. It will rightfully be called a masterpiece.
If you're looking for a documentary that perfectly captures the current state of American politics by telling a specific story of one corner of America very, very well, then run, don't walk, to stream American Factory. Co-directors Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar tell the story of a Chinese billionaire who opens a factory in an abandoned GM plant in Dayton, Ohio (the filmmakers' hometown) in 2016. Donald Trump is never mentioned by name, but he's present in every frame in this smart, empathetic doc. (Which, for what it's worth, has been short-listed for an Oscar.)
With any truly great movie - especially any truly great movie available to stream on Netflix - comes backlash. Such is the case with writer/director Noah Baumbach's lovely, excruciatingly honest portrait of divorce, Marriage Story. I will not stand for this slander. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson deliver the performances of their careers as soon-to-be-divorced Charlie and Nicole Barber. A lovely, careful script affords empathy to every single character, including the divorce lawyers (Laura Dern, Alan Alda, Ray Liotta) who are leeching off a broken legal system, yes, but also genuinely trying to help their clients.
The climactic fight scene that you've perhaps seen in Twitter memes comes after a slow, intentional build and pays off perfectly. And despite the painful personal drama, in many ways Marriage Story is a lighthearted comedy. I'm so glad this gorgeous film is on Netflix so that I can watch it again and again.
This article originally appeared on Decider and was reproduced with permission