The way a film ages has fundamentally changed over the last ten years. No longer does a film’s initial theatrical run and first round of DVD sales determine its longevity, as the advantageous nature of streaming services allow for more rapid critical reevaluations. Certainly, cult films exist for a reason, as they are supported by small, niche fanbases, but now it’s more often that an underrated film is introduced to a more mainstream audience through a streaming provider like Netflix.
Netflix is without a doubt the most dominant entertainment platform in the world right now, and over the past decade, many great films have lived second lives on the surface. Some of these films were considered moderately successful when they were first released, with some even gaining Oscar nominations, but they’ve grown in their estimations as more viewers have discovered them. Here are ten great recent dramas on Netflix you may have missed.
10. Don’t Think Twice
The world of comedy isn’t always funny, and Don’t Think Twice is often cited as one of the most accurate depictions of what it’s like to live within the comic world. The film follows six friends who run an improv comedy troupe called The Commune, and while they deliver spirited performances, each member lives a different life off stage where they wrestle with their unfulfillment and work everyday jobs. The structure of the group is forever altered when one of its star members, Jack (Keegan Michael-Key) lands an audition for Weekend Live, a Saturday Night Live inspired sketch show, which causes his friends to spiral into self-doubt.
Written and directed by Mike Birbiglia, who also co-stars in the film, it raises a lot of questions as to what the obligations are as friends and co-workers; Jack’s friends watch as he’s consumed by the attention and begins to leave them behind, and Keegan Michael-Key gives a finely tuned performance as an energetic performer who finally lands his dream and is forced to keep apologizing for it. The entire ensemble feels like a real comedy troupe, as the actual comedic actors bring their own comedic authenticity to their roles as struggling actors; in particular, Community’s Gillian Jacobs is terrific as Samantha, a love interest to Jack who struggles to contain her own ambitions.
9. Blue Ruin
This decade has seen many emerging genre filmmakers such as S. Craig Zahler or Alex Garland carve out their own niche audiences, and when talking about young visionaries, it would be impossible to not mention Jeremy Saulnier. All four of Saulnier’s films are streaming on Netflix, and while film fans should definitely check out Murder Party, Hold the Dark, and particularly the shocking modern horror classic Green Room, it’s impossible not to recommend Saulnier’s second film Blue Ruin. The stripped down vengeance thriller became a sensation after Saulnier funded the film through Kickstarter and took it all the way to the Cannes Film Festival.
What makes Blue Ruin so brilliant is that it is the exact opposite of most revenge films; the main character Dwight Evans, played brilliantly by Macon Blair, isn’t a killer or even someone with malicious intentions, and seeing this normal guy go through the motions of searching for his parents’ killers is simply thrilling. The action sequences are creative because they question how an actual everyman might act in these scenarios, and the film eventually goes in a more philosophical direction once it explores how acts of violence can bind families together.
8. A Most Violent Year
Although it had the makings of an awards favorite, A Most Violent Year was routinely ignored by critical bodies after its debut in 2014. It’s not an easy film by any stretch of the imagination; this is a film that explores the gradual decline of a city through the eyes of a married couple that grow apart, and its subtle approach to the hard boiled crime drama may leave some wishing for something more exciting or obvious. Those who are in for a rich character drama are in luck, as the film boasts two great performances from Oscar Isaac as Abel Morales, a struggling oil businessman in 1981 New York, and Jessica Chastain as his wife Anna.
Filmmaker J.C. Chandor is among the most interesting rising talents in the industry today, as he is someone who has interesting spins on time-old genres, including the financial thriller Margin Call, the survival epic All is Lost, and the surprisingly subversive military heist film Triple Frontier. With A Most Violent Year, Chandor makes the most of his environments, and alongside cinematographer Bradford Young, he crafts a haunting and atmospheric human drama.
7. Other People
Similar to Don’t Think Twice, Other People is a great film about the not so funny reality of being part of the comedy world. It was an autobiographical story of sorts for writer/director Chris Kelly, who casts Jesse Plemons as a fictionalized version of himself and Molly Shannon as his mother, who is dying of cancer. Plemons is a struggling comedy writer who clashes with his homophobic father (Bradley Whitford) when he returns to his hometown in order to care for his mother.
Other People easily subverts the expectations of normal cancer dramedies; it lets the audience know right off the bat how the story will end, and uses the structure to explore the tender mother and son relationship as they prepare for eventuality. Plemons is a young actor who has been making a lot of great decisions and working with many great filmmakers, and it’s exciting to see him in a leading role of this caliber; Shannon has been a familiar face for years, and this is perhaps her best work to date as the embodiment of pure joy and love. It’s a profoundly moving film that is made all the more authentic by Kelly’s real experiences.
6. Mississippi Grind
Mississippi Grind fills the void that has been missing in modern films of a great gambling movie. Inspired by classic movie star vehicles like The Hustler, The Cincinnati Kid, and in particular California Split, it’s a film that hits all the right notes when it comes to crafting an old-fashioned two-hander. There’s not anything particularly shocking about the film’s story or characters, but it’s nice to see this type of classical filmmaking reintroduced in the modern era, and Half Nelson filmmakers Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden do a great job at making the human drama element feel real.
The film follows the relationship between two men who can’t seem to catch a break; Gerry (Ben Mendelsohn) is a serial gambler who has destroyed his home life as a result, and Curtis (Ryan Reynolds) is a relentless charmer that is looking to forge a new path. The two actors have fantastic chemistry; while Mendelsohn is given the meatier role and is able to make Gerry’s hustler nature both tragic and funny, Reynolds also delivers one of his best performances and utilizes his inherent star power.