With all that’s happened in the last year there’s one thing that I thought was complete crap, but turns out it is actually valuable: Marketing reminding for movies. That is movie trailers, new screenshots or posters, released daily or weekly to remind people that movies are still coming out; in 2019 if you asked me about this, I would say it is pointless and non sensical. Fast forward a pandemic later and I’m now in 2021 trying to catch up to the dozens of movies that came out in a dozen different methods that I completely forgot about or never even heard of before actively searching for them; even in Netflix, I saw dozens of movies in the last few weeks that I had do idea they were in the service and I’m subscripted to Netflix and check it constantly for new things. All this preamble to say that this list is just for Netflix movies and everything else is going to come later, because as I’ve come to discover, Netflix had a pretty good year with lots of great movies lost in the sea of mediocre content with somewhat recognizable faces they decided to push on people instead. The list is in the usual format of 8 movies tied for third place (they are sorted by alphabetical order), while the top two are ranked and numbered. As always though, I’ll start with one honorable mention and – hopefully this becomes a staple from now on – a couple of short films.
Honorable Mention: The Prom
I am not the most experienced of viewers when it comes to musicals, but ever since I saw “La La Land”, I’ve tried to watch at least a couple of adaptations and this year Netflix offered two, with the other one being on my actual list. This isn’t a perfect adaptation as far as I am aware, but since this is my first exposure to the musical in any form, I really enjoyed its heart-warming positivity, addictive music, and excellent performances; I expected to adore Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman, but I even liked Corden in this and I usually find him insufferable as a comedian. There were some decent visuals and visual storytelling that I didn’t expect, the dancing sequences were great (except for ones where it was clear some actors were not able to perform at the speed or accuracy the movie needed them to), the production quality was good. I think that after a year like this, there were moments where I was searching for positivity and there doesn’t need to be anything more beyond wide-eyed, positive energy to get me singing, caring, and nodding along.
A couple of short films that stood out to me (seriously keep making these Netflix, they are awesome)
- If anything happens I love you
I saw this one, randomly, back in November when it released, and I haven’t been able to shake off the emotional journey it takes you on. The animation is excellent, especially the choice of style and how “colorless” it is, the score is excellent, and the story is haunting. Please check this out, it is only 12 minutes, but it is very much worth it.
- What did Jack do?
David Lynch directing a short film about a detective (played by himself) interviewing a monkey (a literal monkey) about his role in a recent murder; if this doesn’t sell you on watching a short movie, then I can’t help you because our tastes are so far apart. I adore Lynch’s filmography and his particular style and the short did not disappoint me at all; in 17 minutes, Lunch manages to throw surprises, funny moments, and unsettle with his use of a literal metaphor. I know technically the film premiered in 2017, but it saw a worldwide release in 2020 and I’m going to use that technicality to my advantage!
Now for the actual list, here are the 8 movies that are tied for 3rd place in alphabetical order:
This year there were several products released that benefited from the unhappy and uncounted for pandemic; in games, “Animal Crossing” saw months long coverage for a game that would have had a highly covered release window and then would have retained just a base audience. Some movies saw a similar fate (“Contagion” saw a renewed appreciation given its subject matter), but the Korean horror flick “#Alive” may not have been so lucky; it’s a zombie movie that is about a young teen trying to stay indoors as much as possible since everything outside is trying to kill him, but it is not about the deadly virus per se. What it actually is about is mental and psychological damage from hate and failing to meet expectations of society and it is a damn good horror movie, elevated by clever writing, strong performances, and brisk pacing throughout; unlike other horror offerings from Netflix, “#Alive” gets the basics right and then delivers the thought-provoking, anxiety-inducing ideas and questions alongside them and its those that have stuck with me several months after.
- Da 5 bloods
In the competitive space of subscription-based services that specialize in movie and TV entertainment, Netflix was king, but then other aspiring lords started staking a claim for the throne. As far as series were concerned, Netflix had a few loses and many self-inflicted wounds (see “Bojack Horseman”, “Mindhunters”, “Tuca & Bertie”, and many other quality shows cancelled for no apparent reason), but it always would come out on top with some of the most popular shows of the year. Their actual weak spot was their movie offerings, because although there were some great movies like “Okja” and “Beast of no nation”, they were the exception, the norm was quantity over quality (or more accurately “if you throw enough, something will stick”); that hasn’t actually changed, but due to their vast resources, they have managed to buy quality by simply giving legends and A-list creators a lot of money and funding their dream projects. Spike Lee’s “Da 5 bloods” is an exceptional war movie and social drama that is current and provocative in its commentary, resisting the need to cater; in short, it feels like the movie Spike Lee wanted to make. In cases like this, I welcome Netflix and their allowance to seemingly infinite funds, because the movie has great production value (the CGI looks a bit meh though), fantastic casting, great implementation of visual storytelling through aspect ratio changes and real video from the actual Vietnam war, and some of the best performances of the year. Similar to “Roma”, “The Irishman”, and the many other movies that would have gotten less budget and more oversight, when Netflix signs a big deal with celebrated creators it is no longer a red flag, as it usually results in an exceptional movie and “Da 5 Bloods” is no exception.
- Dick Johnson is Dead
When this documentary released back in October, I vaguely remember seeing it on the front page of Netflix and quickly forgetting about it, even with its eye-catching premise; when I decided I was going to make the lists of the year differently, I decided to check out my list for anything released in 2020 and see if it was a worthwhile plea. I’m grateful for that, because “Dick Johnson is Dead” would have stayed lost in the vast pitfall that is my watchlist on Netflix, and I would have lost out on one of the most funny, poignant, humane, and creative documentaries I have ever seen. This is the story of a father and daughter coming to terms with the impending impact of death, by “killing” the father over and over again so they can come to terms with the inevitable; this sounds depressing AF and it is! But, its also funny and smart in how it is edited, paced, and what it actually tries to teach the viewer; this is not a movie about death being an inevitability and you should just accept it. This is a movie about learning how to grieve, how to embrace what was and what is, in order to move forward and experience what is about to be. It’s a phenomenal documentary and people should not sleep on this; it is one of the most worthwhile projects on Netflix and it will stick with you in the best way possible.
As I’ve said a billion times before, the hardest thing for me to talk about are comedies and critiquing them properly; saying a drama doesn’t work because its characters were weak or the plot was not satisfying can be worked and expanded on, but saying the humor of a comedy is bad just doesn’t feel right. They are both subjective sentences, but explaining why Hillbilly Elegy’s central conflict of a character needing to come to terms with his family and their shared past doesn’t work (in the context of a review, not a list placement) is more fitting than recounting a joke and saying its bad just feels like I’m using my tastes as an objective barometer of what is “good” comedy; like saying that a character eats a banana and drops the peel while another character steps on it and slips can both be “good” and “bad” comedy depending on the execution, but criticizing it feels like revealing a magicians secrets just to show that there is no magic (duh!). Having said that, as a fan of Eurovision and its quirkiness, a fan of the cast (Will Ferrell hasn’t been good for a long time, but I still love him for his earlier work), I was pleasantly surprised by this movie and how funny I found it; it’s a plus that it doesn’t feel like its mocking the contest or the fans/contesters, but mostly I loved Rachel McAdams. She has great timing and delivery, as well as having a lot of great material to work with; Ferrell is less good, but he doesn’t take up the majority of screen time. Mostly though – alongside “The Lovebirds” – I really wanted a good, “dumb” comedy to just laugh at and it certainly delivered on that front.
“Extraction” is the simplest movie to sell and recommend to people. Basically, all you need is to gage your reaction to the following statement: “Extraction” is made by Sam Hargrave, stunt coordinator for many Marvel movies, and it is that type of action nearly done to perfection. If that sounds compelling to you, then you’ll love this movie; if that doesn’t sound interesting, there is nothing here for you. The story is whatever, the performances are good, but not nearly good enough to sell the movie on their own, the visuals lack a distinct style of their own; what makes or breaks this movie is whether you would like to see Hargrave’s version of “John Wick”. I did want to see that and it is marvelous; it’s an action-packed, high-octane, ride with shoutouts, close quarters combat, a chase sequence to rival the best of them, and a solid Chris Hemsworth performance to lead and ground the whole package. I haven’t seen too many action-oriented movies this year, but it would be hard to consider something that would match the level of quality this movie managed to get and I sincerely hope to see more from Hargrave, especially considering this is his feature-length debut.
- I’m thinking of ending things
Charlie Kaufmann is one of the most interesting voices working in cinema currently; his stuff isn’t for everyone (no one’s is) but in Kaufmann’s case it is rarely a split between opinions. His movies are always challenging people and some are praising his uniqueness and style, while others lament the weird choices and “pretentiousness” of his work as not worthwhile. I was in the first camp and “I’m thinking of ending things” is exactly the type of movie that placed me there; it isn’t the one that will make everyone understand what fans see in him, but it will give his fans exactly what they want. This is a challenging movie that sometimes is funny, obscure, ambiguous, quirky, sad, and so much more; you need to see this movie 2 or 3 times to appreciate everything and form your own interpretation, but you want to see it multiple times as well. There are great performances, great design of sets, the directing and writing is top notch, and, the cherry on top, it is a unique movie from a unique voice.
- Ma Reiny’s black bottom
Most people will know this movie from being the top movie that former POTUS Obama saw in 2020 and, while I don’t necessarily agree with the placement, this is one outstanding movie. Boseman features again this year and I strongly feel he should be a contender for an Academy Award, despite him not being here to accept it; he is really that good. Viola Davis should also get a nomination because she is also that good and the reason why both these actors should see nominations is the reason this musical adaptation works so well; while the sets, the songs, and the directing of the scenes is lifted straight out of the musical (I assume I haven’t seen it, but it feels that way) so does the energy and over-the-top emoting inherent to theater. However, they bring the gravitas and nuance that is associated with cinematic, dramatic acting to their roles as well and you have this almost impossible mixture of theater and cinema in one brisk and beautiful hour and thirty.
- Nobody knows I’m here
My friends tell me I’m a hipster and while I don’t actually believe that myself that makes me even more of a hipster! So, in order to keep my credentials of being a hipster, I’m going to give a spot to a Chilean filmmaker who makes his feature-length film debut with this character drama, starring Jorge Garcia (who most people will recognize as Hurley from Lost). First of all, I had to look up Garcia’s character name in Lost, because he is now Memo in my mind; talking of award-worthy performances, this should be on top of the consideration list. He plays Memo, a former child star that has become a recluse and lives with his uncle in a remote island and tends to a sheep farm, until his talent and whereabouts get revealed. This is a beautiful movie with great cinematography (especially in its use of colors and placement of characters relative to their surroundings), but the character arc and writing simply steal all the spotlight; the main song of the movie is infectious, the pacing is spot on, and the directing/acting are so strong I couldn’t help but be emotionally invested and weeping by the end.
And the runner up for this year is… His House
“His House” is one of those movies that reminds me why I love the medium and the genre; simply put, it creatively relays human experiences and conditions that provides viewers with an entertaining and meaningful experience exploring those themes. It delivers on everything you would want from a horror movie about immigrants learning to adapt in a new country that they fled to from their war-torn nation; the creature design is unsettling and memorable; the scares are legit and impactful; the meaning behind the horror is clear and can be a gateway to a meaningful conversation/incentive to learn more about the subject; the performances are excellent and the directing is sublime. I can come up with dozens of adjectives and even more heaps of praise for the movie, but you get the point: If you are a fan of horror movies, then watch this movie!
The winner for this year is… Uncut Gems
I know that most people in the world saw this movie in 2019, but where I live it was made available in 2020 and since this is my list and my rules, Uncut Gems is a 2020 movie and it is the best one and I’m going to gush over it again! There’s so much praise for this movie that I feel like I could end the entry right here and nothing would be lost, yet I truly feel that it should earn more respect and more praise. I’ll link my article and you can check out some of my thoughts on it but, I’ll talk about other stuff that I didn’t talk about there just to add to the praise. Julia Fox is incredible in this movie and, considering this is her feature debut, a really talented actor that should kickstart a marvelous career; she is phenomenal in the way she uses her physique to lure viewers into thinking the worst about her character (as Howard does), but in retrospect she isn’t actually a bimbo or looking for a sugar daddy. That is a difficult balance to maintain and she handles it like a pro. Another thing I want to praise is the very intentional comedy that is sprinkled throughout the movie; obviously, Sandler does have a few funny moments, but there are a few that stuck with me, mainly the opening scene with miners in Africa digging up the diamond that sets off the events of the movie, which is then zoomed into and we travel through to come out of Howard’s ass, which makes the implication that he literally pulled it out of his ass! There are so many little moments like that, which serve the entertainment value of the movie and the themes of it, allowing the characters and their actions time to breathe while not allowing viewers to be bored or be distracted. This is, in my opinion, a masterpiece of a movie and one that I just get excited to talk about, think about, watch again, or just introduce it to new people and every time I do any of those things, it reminds me why I fell in love with movies in the first place.
And there you have it, my favorite movies from Netflix in 2020. In the coming weeks, I will be putting up reviews and other articles to lead into the movies that released through other services as I get my hands on them and start compiling them in their own list(s).