Last year, Netflix has released over 40 original movies. This is a record number for the American company that started in 1998 as a DVD rental store and has since evolved into the world’s largest subscription streaming service.
Netflix first started to come up with their own content back in 2013, when they released “House Of Cards”, their first of many to follow original series. Following a couple of other successful shows, in 2015 Netflix bought the rights for “Beasts Of No Nation”, a war drama film that received both a theatrical and online release and generated positive reviews from critics. The film was followed by “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon II: The Green Legend”, a sequel to Ang Lee’s martial-arts epic that saw Netflix collaborating with The Weinstein Company. Receiving middling to negative reviews, Netflix’s second original film was not a success and this was the case with every other movie they released in 2016.
Things changed in 2017 when the streaming giant decided to team up with some renowned directors and dramatically increased the quality of their movie content. Of course, there were still tons of bad films, yet there were also “The Meyerowitz Stories”, “Okja”, “Gerald’s Game”, “First They Killed My Father”, or the underrated “I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore”.
In 2018, Netflix continued to raise their game and provided us with some of the best films of the year, including Alfonso Cuarón’s much-lauded “Roma” (which turned the streaming service into a major award contender), The Coen Brothers’s western anthology “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” or Tamara Jenkins’ comedy-drama “Private Life”.
2019 was in many ways an even better year for Netflix’s original movies. The number of good films continued to increase and, with Martin Scorsese and Noah Baumbach releasing their films through the platform, Netflix became an even bigger presence at major award ceremonies. Things are looking good and it seems that in 2020 there will be even more interesting films coming up from our favorite streaming platform. Until then, here are our favorite 10 Netflix original films from last year.
10. The King
This historical epic stars Timothée Chalamet as Hal, the wayward son of King Henry IV and heir to the English throne who, disinterested with his father’s war policies and royal life, has chosen to live among the people. But when his tyrannical father dies, Hal reluctantly becomes King Henry V and, unlike his predecessor, he wants to create a more peaceful kingdom.
Based on a couple of Shakespeare’s history plays – Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2, and Henry V, “The King” doesn’t always live up to the potential of its source material, but the amazing production design, masterful cinematography, and great performances from Timothée Chalamet, Joel Edgerton and Robert Pattinson make it worth a place on this list.
9. The Forest Of Love
The latest film from Japanese director Sion Sono (“Love Exposure”, “Cold Fish”) follows a charismatic con man and a trio of aspiring filmmakers who force themselves into the lives of two young women who’ve been through a traumatic experience while in high school.
With a 150 minutes runtime, this is a long film and if you’re not into gory, weird, excessive and totally messed up kind of movies, it might not be for you. However, if you’ve seen and liked Sion Sono’s other works, you will probably enjoy “The Forest Of Love”, which feels like an amalgamation of all of the themes, characters, and obsessions that can be found in the director’s past catalogue. It is a self-indulgent, indescribably strange, and nearly impossible to review movie, the kind of film that you will either love or hate.
8. High Flying Bird
Last year, director Steven Soderbergh was productive enough that he managed to release two different movies. While his second effort from 2019, “The Laundromat”, turned out to be a star-studded mess, “High Flying Bird” was met with much better reactions from critics.
The film is led by André Holland, who plays a sports agent who must pull off a plan in 72 hours, pitching a controversial opportunity to his client, a rookie basketball player during the company’s lockout.
A fresh take on sports dramas, “High Flying Bird” is a competently made film whose well-written dialogue, strong acting, clever script, and unique cinematography set it apart from the bulk of Netflix originals. After his 2018 thriller “Unsane”, this is the second time Soderbergh uses an iPhone to shoot his films and – while we still aren’t sure whether we like it or not – there is definitely something interesting about the way this film looks.
7. The Two Popes
Directed by Fernando Meirelles (“City Of God”) and adapted from Anthony McCarten’s 2017 play “The Pope”, “The Two Popes” stars veteran actors Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce as Joseph Ratzinger and Jorge Bergoglio, better known as Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis.
Mostly a dialogue-based film, “The Two Popes” depicts a 2012 meeting between Cardinal Bergoglio and Pope Benedict XVI and their discussions regarding the future of the Catholic Church. Back in 2012, Bergoglio wanted to retire and went to the Vatican to ask for Pope Benedict’s permission. However, things turned out differently and, despite their personal and ideological differences, the meeting between the two led to Benedict asking Bergoglio to become his successor when he decided to retire in the spring of 2013.
Funny and thoughtful at the same time, “The Two Popes” acts as a short summary of the recent history of the Catholic Church, but through the use of flashbacks also depicts some of Pope Francis’s past as a Jesuit from Argentina. This is not a flawless film – it sometimes tries too hard to be a crowd-pleaser, suffers from some distracting editing choices and doesn’t answer as many questions as we would have liked – but it does a great job at humanizing these two larger than life figures and is worth watching if only for the superb performances given by Hopkins and Pryce.
6. El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie
Six years after the finale of “Breaking Bad”, we finally got to see what happened to Jesse Pinkman in this Netflix original movie released in the autumn of 2019. Taking place just after the aftermath of the original show, “El Camino” centers on the terrified and deeply traumatized Jesse just after he escapes from the neo-Nazis meth dealers, but it also contains a couple of flashbacks showing previously unseen moments and bringing back some familiar faces.
As we expected from “Breaking Bad” creator Vince Gilligan, who has also written and directed this sequel, there was a lot of effort put in the film’s production value: “El Camino” is well-shot, filled with great cinematography and an amazing soundtrack. However, the highlight of the film remains Aaron Paul, who gives a career-best performance with his intense portrayal of the PTSD-suffering Jesse Pinkman.
Mostly acting like an extended episode of the original show, “El Camino” will please fans who wanted to know a little more about the aftermath of Walter White’s death and brings enough additional insight into Jesse’s character to justify its existence. Needless to say, this doesn’t work as a standalone film, so it is a bit hard to judge it on its own. Is “El Camino” as good as the best “Breaking Bad” episodes? Definitely not. Is it a necessary sequel? Not really. Is it enjoyable? Absolutely.