Director Mati Diop has won the Grand Prix at last year’s Cannes Film Festival with her debut feature “Atlantics”, an impressive film that blends together drama, romance, fantasy, and a weighty layer of social commentary. Set in a suburb of Dakar, Senegal, the film follows Ada, a young woman who is about to get married to a wealthy man but is in love with another one. Souleiman, Ada’s true love, is working as a constructor and he hasn’t been paid in months.
Along with his fellow workers, Souleiman decides to leave Senegal and embarks on a boat that is sailing to Spain. In the coming days, when Souleiman and the other men don’t give any sign of life, people start to worry about their fate. Then, mysterious things start to happen to the inhabitants of Dakar and they seem to be linked with the men’s disappearance.
“Atlantics” is a slow-burn type of film and its unrushed pace might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is hard not to admire the beautiful cinematography, the ethereal synth soundtrack, and the bizarreness they manage to instill into the film’s atmosphere. Soaked in shades of green and blue and filled with imagery of the tranquil ocean, this is a gorgeous looking film and even more impressive considering it is Mati Diop’s debut.
Apart from a fantastic presentation, the film also impressed us with its unique story. There is an unexpected twist in its second half that we really didn’t see coming and what started as a seemingly common drama turns into something surreal and much more intriguing. With a little more plot and character development, this could have easily been our favorite Netflix original of 2019.
Alex Lehmann’s second feature film is a comedy-drama about platonic love between men that stars Mark Duplass and Ray Romano as Michael and Andy, two middle-aged best friends and neighbors who love watching Asian Kung-Fu movies, eating pizza and playing Paddleton (a game the two made up together) near an abandoned drive-in movie theater. When Michael receives the terrible news that he has terminal stomach cancer and only months to live, he decides to get medication to end his life and asks Andy for help.
“Paddleton” tells a pretty straight forward story, yet Duplass’ and Romano’s great chemistry and endearing performances, the well-written dialogue filled with witty jokes and existential questions, and a truly touching ending make it one of the better Netflix original movies we’ve got this year.
3. Dolemite Is My Name
Reminiscent of “The Disaster Artist” or Tim Burton’s “Ed Wood” (with whom it shares the same team of screenwriters), “Dolemite Is My Name” is a biographical comedy that follows the rise to stardom of Rudy Ray Moore (Eddie Murphy), the legendary American comedian, singer, and actor who gave life to the character of Dolemite in a series of “so bad they’re good” 1970s blaxploitation movies and whose profanity-filled music was considered to have a seminal influence on the rap and hip-hop genre.
“Dolemite Is My Name” is not the kind of film to take itself too seriously, nor does it try to bring anything new to the table, yet its lighthearted, optimistic atmosphere, uplifting funky soundtrack and, of course, Eddie Murphy’s show-stealing performance make it one of the best movies Netflix has put out last year. This is probably the most energetic film we’ve seen in 2019 and Eddie Murphy is the best he’s been in years (maybe even decades), so you should really give it a shot next time it shows up in your Netflix recommendations.
2. The Irishman
“The Irishman” was one of the most anticipated movies of 2019 and saw Martin Scorsese reunite with Robert De Niro and ex-retired Joe Pesci and doing what they do best. Al Pacino also starred in the film, marking his first-ever project with Scorsese.
Based on Charles Brandt’s book “I Heard You Paint Houses”, “The Irishman” has many resemblances with Scorsese’s 1990s epic mob films “Goodfellas” and “Casino”, but it is a more contemplative film that dwells a lot on old age, loneliness, life, and death. The movie tells the real-life story of Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran (Robert De Niro), a truck driver who became a labor union official with mob connections and claimed to be involved in the killing of labor union leader Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino).
“The Irishman” received positive reviews and was particularly praised for the performances given by De Niro, Pesci and Pacino. It is another great entry in Scorsese’s filmography and perhaps the swan song of a generation of actors. However, while there are many things to admire in Scorsese’s passion project, the exaggerated runtime and occasionally distracting CGI de-aging kept us from placing it higher on this list.
1. Marriage Story
“Marriage Story” stars Adam Driver and Scarlett Johannson as a couple of New Yorkers whose relationship is about to end. Driver’s character, Charlie Barber, is a successful theatre director who is currently producing a play that stars his wife Nicole, a former teen movie actress. The two of them have a young son called Henry and we are first introduced two their family through a somewhat misleading first scene.
The film starts with a voiced-over montage in which the two spouses tell (the audience?) what they like about each other. This scene makes you believe you are about to watch a love story, but as soon as it ends, we find out that what we heard so far were lists written by Nicole and Charlie for a counselor they are seeing because of their marital problems. Unlike its ironic title makes you believe, Noah Baumbach’s latest film is the story of a love’s end.
“Marriage Story” shows us the complicated thing that a divorce is (even an amicable one) in a very humane way, without ever becoming a tedious courtroom drama, neither too melodramatic. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are phenomenal and their work in this film was deservedly much lauded. As with most of the characters in Baumbach films, Charlie and Nicole feel like real people with little quirks, anxieties, and complex personalities. Laura Dern, Alan Arda, and Ray Liotta, who play three lawyers who help the couple with their divorce case, are also scene-stealers and give some small, yet memorable performances.
This is another great entry into Noach Baumbach’s already fantastic catalogue. It is his most personal film to date (Baumbach himself went through a divorce with actress Jennifer Jason Leigh, with whom he has a son together) and, while it doesn’t have a script better than “The Squid And The Whale” and isn’t as charismatic as “Frances Ha”, it is the most mature film of his career.