5. Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond (Chris Smith, 2017)
Considering today’s oversaturation of the genre, it is quite rare to find a documentary quite as unique and engaging as Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond. The film is about Jim Carrey’s portrayal of legendary comedian Andy Kaufman for the film The Man on the Moon. According to the documentary, Carrey stayed in character for the entirety of the shoot, and was constantly tormenting his fellow cast and crew, both as Kaufman and his alter ego Tony Clifton.
The documentary begins with a focus on Andy Kaufman, but it slowly morphs into a character study of Carrey himself. Some of the best parts of the film come when Carrey gives long monologues on his previous work and philosophy. Carrey has a strangely poetic way of speaking, and his speeches make the film incredibly engaging.
The most interesting thing about the documentary, however, is its ambiguity. The only interviewee in the entire film is Carrey himself. No other actor or crew member has confirmed any of the stories, and there is an ending scene that makes the viewer immediately question the truth of everything they had just watched.
It seems quite like something Andy Kaufman himself would conceive of, and it adds a layer of intrigue to what was already one of the most interesting documentaries of recent memory.
4. Mudbound (Dee Rees, 2017)
Mudbound is without question one of the most popular films to come from Netflix in the past few years. Receiving four nominations, the film gained more recognition at the Academy Awards than any other previous work by Netflix.
Mudbound tells a tale of racism, family, and community in a post World War II Mississippi. The story serves as a gripping and unique look at the suffering that occurred in the South, and the brilliant screenplays provides both a compelling narrative and a relevant social commentary.
The majority of the Mudbound’s merit is derived from the technical side, and this is where the film truly exceeds. The film’s strongest aspect is the magnificent cinematography from Rachel Morrison, who recently became the first woman to ever be nominated for an Academy Award in her category. Mudbound was the first mainstream film from independent director Dee Rees, and the film will hopefully pave the road for more personal and diverse voices in the world of cinema.
3. 13th (Ava DuVernay, 2016)
Ava DuVernay has become one of the most important directors of the past decade, and undoubtedly her greatest work to date is this Netflix original documentary. The doc focuses on the corruptness and immorality of the current US prison system, and compares the treatment of African Americans in prison to their treatment as slaves before the Civil War.
DuVernay is not afraid to criticize both the left and the right in her quest for racial equality in America, and the film provides mountains of statistics and history to prove its overall thesis.
It is not surprising that DuVernay began her film career as a documentarian since 13th is an expertly crafted, compelling, and moving film that brilliantly combines interviews, archival footage, and statistics to deliver a hard-hitting message. 13th is not only one of the best films that Netflix has to offer, but it is likely one of the best documentaries made in the past decade.
2. I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore (Macon Blair, 2017)
This offbeat crime comedy won the prestigious Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, but afterwards it failed to gain much attention. The film follows a Ruth, a lonely nurse who is pushed to her breaking point when her house is burgled. She befriends the Dwight Schrute-esque Tony who helps her retrieve her stolen items when she realizes the police won’t help her.
The film was written and directed by actor Macon Blair, who has starred in recent cult films such as Blue Ruin and Green Room, and it his first film behind the camera. The film is a strong debut with a screenplay that is equally disturbing and hilarious. Many have compared the film to the earlier work of the Coen Brothers, and it is quite an apt comparison.
The film acts as a celebration of the outlandish, the overlooked, and the pushovers that are not often displayed as heroic leads. I Don’t Feel At Home in This World Anymore is a fresh and unique crime comedy with a colorful cast of characters that is without a doubt one of the best original films Netflix currently has to offer.
1. The Meyerowitz Stories (Noah Baumbach, 2017)
Noah Baumbach has maintained a reputation as one of the most quiet and unique filmmakers of the 21st century. He usually releases a film every few years that a decent amount of people see and enjoy, but he receives relatively little attention outside of his niche fan base. In recent years Baumbach has somewhat fallen out of the public eye, but in 2017 he released one of his best films to date. The Meyerowitz Stories is an incredibly personal look into the lives three siblings as their forgotten sculptor father falls into a coma.
What makes the film stand out and above from all other Netflix originals is the outstanding screenplay from Baumbach himself. Each line is brilliantly written and delivered to achieve a perfect blend of dramatic and comedic styles.
All of the performances in the film are outstanding, especially from Adam Sandler, who proves once again that he has serious acting skills when combined with a skilled director and capable script. Even the smallest supporting characters are given a moment to shine, and all actors (even Adam driver, who shows up for only a single scene) transform into their characters.
The reason The Meyerowitz Stories is the greatest Netflix original is because of its ability to surpass that title. Many films distributed by Netflix are forever branded with the logo and are unable to escape the connection to the streaming service, but Noah Baumbach’s delightful look at a dysfunctional family is a stand alone film worthy of more recognition than it receives.
Honorable Mentions: Beasts of No Nation (Cary Fukunaga, 2015), Strong Island (Yance Ford, 2017), Virunga (Orlando von Einsiedel, 2014)