Over the past five years, Netflix has grown from being the premiere streaming service in the world to being the largest producer of original content. Although the service first became known for their star studded television programs, they developed a rich lineup of films, including everything from blockbusters to cult hits. It’s impossible to ignore the dominance of Netflix, as they’ve employed such brilliant filmmakers as Martin Scorsese, the Coen Brothers, Alfonso Cuaron, Noah Baumbach, Jeremy Saulnier, David Michod, and Dee Rees among others.
While films like The Irishman or Roma became Oscar favorites, and others like Bright or Bird Box attracted countless viewers, there are some Netflix films that have flown under the radar. Sometimes the studio does not properly market their films, and some releases tend to be buried at the bottom of their home page. Here are ten great Netflix films you may have missed.
Utilizing age old story techniques of both crime films and romantic comedies, Tramps has a unique modern spin on a story of mismatched partners who become lovers. Danny (Callum Turner) must deliver a package for his irresponsible brother, but after the deal goes wrong, he is forced to complete the mission with the help of his driver Ellie (Grace Van Patten). Over the course of their trip through New York, these two begin to open up and engage with one another in a Before Sunrise style adventure.
While the caper element of the story gives it its context, the film is completely relaxing and impressionistic; the danger of these two not completing the job is only secondary to the fear that they won’t see each other again. Turner and Van Patten have excellent chemistry, and it’s easy to get invested in seeing these two characters find something meaningful in the most unexpected of circumstances.
Wheelman has a completely original take on the life of a getaway driver, as the entire film is contained to the interior of a car as its driver (Frank Grillo) suspects that his employer is planning to kill him after the drop. The approach keeps the viewer in synchronization with the driver throughout, exploring his rising anxiety and quick decision making process as the situation escalates. The low budget set pieces become even more thrilling, as the viewer is quite literally trapped in the car throughout the bulk of the action.
A film with a premise this simple requires a truly exceptional lead performance, and Frank Grillo delivers all the raw pathos needed to make the character accessible; whether he’s talking to his young daughter or running down his itinerary, Grillo brings a working class feel to what could’ve been a heist movie stereotype. Short and breathless, Wheelman is a film action fans shouldn’t miss.
It’s safe to say that Stephen King adaptations are more popular than ever thanks to the overwhelming success of the It films, but one King adaptation that’s flown heavily under the radar is Netflix’s 2017 adaptation of the novella 1922. The gruesome period piece examines the slow deterioration of Wilfred James (Thomas Jane), a proud farmer who murders his wife when she threatens to move their family to the city. Jane gives the performance of his career; never does the viewer doubt his conviction or fail to empathize with his visceral breakdown.
The brilliance of 1922 is that the murder itself is an inevitability, and the majority of the film follows James as his demons manifest themselves into literal physical manifestations. The production design and direction are top notch, and the film is both refreshingly low scale and completely believable with its period setting. Essentially a retelling of Edgar Allen Poe’s “A Tell-Tale Heart,” 1922 is one of the best King adaptations in recent memory.
7. Private Life
Over a decade after her film The Savages made waves in the indie world, Tamara Jenkins returned with another complicated story about the reality of relationships with Private Life. Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn star as a middle aged couple who are unable to conceive a child, and as they explore every possible opportunity to become parents, the two question what events led them to where they’re at now. While the story can be bleak at times, Giamatti and Hahn bring a smart and savage humor to their characters, who are both struggling writers.
It’s a film that exhausts the realism of each situation to its fullest extent; the two leads often engage in frank conversations about intimacy and futility, and despite the heartbreaking scenarios they’re placed in, the film ultimately feels optimistic. The optimism also comes through in the form of Sadie (Kayli Carter), the couple’s niece who offers to become their donor. Sadie’s involvement in the story helps to put the experiences of the couple in perspective, as they are contrasted with a carefree and blissfully inexperienced young person.
6. High Flying Bird
Steven Soderbergh is one of the most signature and courageous filmmakers of the 21st Century; he’s a filmmaker who shoots quickly and dabbles in a variety of projects that span multiple mediums and constitute many genres. High Flying Bird is Soderbergh in his wheelhouse and at his most self-aware, as it explores the rise of streaming and the relationship between corporations and artists. The film follows veteran sports agent Ray Burke (Andre Holland) as he navigates his way through a player lockout.
Soderbergh previously experimented by shooting Unsane on an iPhone, and High Flying Bird marks a more successful use of the medium, as it captures the intimacy and urgency of the backstage conversations that ensue amongst sports events. With bold themes about the ways in which technology gives people voices and a fantastic ensemble that includes Zazie Beets, Kyle MacLachlan, and Zachary Quinto, High Flying Bird is electrifying cinema.