While Fincher is generally known for his gritty crime dramas, he’s not afraid to approach slightly more unfamiliar territory. This was made evident following the one-two punch of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Social Network. Fincher kept his directorial style, but changed the subject matter to something a little tamer. This shift resulted in just as much critical acclaim as usual, if not more.
Following a six-year hiatus, Fincher has returned to filmmaking with the release of Mank. Like the aforementioned films, Mank is a more straightforward drama compared to something like Zodiac or Gone Girl. In place of the usual murder mystery, Mank tells a biographical story about Herman J. Mankiewicz, the screenwriter of Citizen Kane.
While this is still clearly the work of David Fincher, it often feels like a daring experiment because of minor stylistic deviations. For example, the pacing is slowed down significantly compared to most of his previous efforts. Mank is a more focused character study, which makes sense given its status as a biopic. That slower pace works to the film’s advantage as long as viewers know what they’re getting into.
In other words, Mank succeeds at what it sets out to do, but that doesn’t mean it is wholly accessible. The film has a tendency to meander; it sits on things for long stretches of time, and this can be off-putting if you’re expecting fireworks. This is not The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; it rewards patience.
Fincher set out to create a grounded look into the life of a stubborn screenwriter, and in that regard, he succeeded. Skilled direction goes hand-in-hand with a laser-focused screenplay, and the results are often enchanting. That being said, it benefits viewers to have some sort of interest in the subject matter. That minor caveat can make a huge difference.
7. The 40 Year Old Version
It shouldn’t surprise people to hear that Netflix usually likes to go big with their movies. Even the previously mentioned prestige dramas tend to have large budgets and impressive casts. These types of movies usually get the most attention, but they’re not necessarily the best. Every now and then, viewers will get treated to a high-quality motion picture that’s much smaller in scale
Last year, The 40-Year-Old Version came out of nowhere and impressed a majority of critics and casual viewers. With an impressive 98% on Rotten Tomatoes, it’s hard to ignore the sheer quality of this low-budget black-and-white comedy. It tells a story with heart, brains, and spirit. It might not be as noteworthy as any of the other entries, but it’s liable to make a lasting impression regardless.
8. Crip Camp
Netflix knocked it out of the park when it came to documentaries in 2020. In fact, there could be a separate list devoted to the best Netflix documentaries from last year. However, in order to streamline the list a little bit, we’ve decided to only include a couple standouts.
Crip Camp belongs on this list just as much as any narrative release. The Oscar-nominated passion project from Nicole Newnham and James Lebrecht seeks to shed light on a particular movement that often feels overlooked. The disability rights movement isn’t exactly a foreign concept to people, but it is something that fails to gain the same kind of momentum as similar movements. This means that Crip Camp has the freedom to delve into topics that benefit from additional exploration.
Documentaries framed around these subjects can be generic in the wrong hands. Thankfully, Crip Camp makes an effort to educate audiences in a way that’s both uplifting and thought-provoking. It places the focal point on the individuals rather than the movement as a whole, and this leads to a more human film than one might expect.
There’s a beating heart at the center of Crip Camp. The subject matter clearly means something to everyone involved. The directing duo is dedicated to telling a heartwarming story that also happens to teach viewers a thing or two. That dedication helped create a monumental success.
9. His House
When it comes to horror, Netflix has some catching up to do if it wants to reach the dizzying heights of Shudder. Throwaway horror flicks like The Babysitter: Killer Queen clogged up Netflix’s library. Meanwhile, other services got access to higher caliber releases. Browsing the horror section of the app can be a bit discouraging, especially if you’re looking for original content, but there are definitely some gems beneath the rubble.
His House, the directorial debut of Remi Weekes, is a drastic step up from a large majority of Netflix horror releases. As is the case with a lot of high quality horror, the film uses its scares to send a message. There are supernatural thrills to be had, but they exist in order to send a message about refugees and the repercussions of fight-or-flight decision-making.
The atmosphere reels you in, but the twists and turns hit you like a brick. His House is capable of keeping you up at night, but not for the reasons you’re used to. The thematically rich subject matter will drill a hole into your brain and invade your thoughts for long stretches of time. The horror doesn’t come from the supernatural elements; it comes from the drama that propels the story forward.
10. The Half of It
Coming-of-age dramedies come out fairly regularly, which means that there’s a lot of competition and only a few come out on top. This continued to be the case last year with releases like Stargirl, Banana Split, and All the Bright Spaces. Most of these movies can best be described as “fine.” They did what they needed to do, but they rarely excelled in any particular area. That is fortunately not the case with The Half of It.
This young adult love story revolves around an unpopular bookworm named Ellie who decides to help the local jock write love letters to his crush for a small fee. There’s one unfortunate caveat; Ellie has the same exact crush. As is the case with these types of films, all sorts of quirky chaos ensues, and it’s all very amusing. However, as you’re likely aware, most movies need to be more than amusing to stand out from the crowd.
Thankfully, The Half of It provides far more than passive amusement. There’s an incomparable amount of heart on display. Rather than give viewers a handful of antiquated archetypes, screenwriter Alice Wu successfully manages to create characters with distinct personalities. These characters push the movie into unfamiliar territory, and honestly, it’s the kind of unfamiliar territory this genre desperately needs.
The Half of It doesn’t completely reinvent the genre, but it does switch things up just enough to be successful. In a genre that frequently tells the same exact story, it’s refreshing to see something that tries a little harder.