As the moviegoing world gears up for what it proving to be a remarkable embarrassment of riches for awards season, Netflix — both in terms of its original content and its ‘syndicated’ catalog, is increasingly demanding a larger and larger share of our limited attention. From introducing some of the best and most interesting films of the year to kairotically dredging up some of the best of years past, there’s no getting around the fact that the streaming platform is a genuine force to be reckoned with.
In terms of content offered, November is proving to be one of the best months that the streaming platform has had in a while. Although there are few hard-hitting exits from the service around this time, what they’ve gained is no less than remarkable: from legendarily lost films brought to life almost a half-century after the fact to cutting-edge tour-de-forces from present-day auteurs, from depressingly prescient reflections on the state of modern politics to the animated precursors to one of last year’s biggest films. The incoming lineup of titles for Netflix is a pleasant and much-needed surprise from them.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
Joel and Ethan Coen have a pretty sterling record as a two of the best filmmakers in Hollywood for the past few decades. Working as both writers and directors for their films, they command an arresting, tragicomic vision of the world that you just can’t find anywhere else. And for their first foray into digital filmmaking — as well as into non-theatrical distribution — The Ballad of Buster Scruggs promising to be a fun-sized foray into their usual narrative inroads.
Westerns have struggled to find a place in the larger movie culture since the well of spaghetti westerns dried up in the post-1960s. They’re too old-fashioned, one might argue, and their well-worn tropes are mired in naked racism toward the native peoples of this country. But when the genre does rear its head in recent years, its almost invariably the Coens that find a way to make it work, From more strictly historical takes on the genre like True Grit (2010) to more contemporaneous evolutions of it like No Country for Old Men (2007), they’ve proven to pretty much be the only two men in Hollywood to have the Western figured out, and Buster Scruggs thankfully looks like more of what we’ve come to expect from this strain of Coen brothers films.
Children of Men (2006)
Given how this year’s pre-Oscar races are shaking up, Alfonso CuarÃ³n’s Roma (2018) — a black-and-white, Spanish-language, 65 mm, Netflix-produced drama based on his middle-class Mexican upbringing and starring non-professional actors — is likely to be one of the cornerstones of the season. It is by all accounts a powerful piece of filmmaking, one which consumes the entire screen and fully absorbs its viewers. Owing to that, as well as its timely subject matter, it appears to be a safe bet for a Best Picture nomination and a virtual lock for a Best Director trophy.
And while CuarÃ³n’s previous Oscar win was for 2013’s Gravity, his best work to date is unquestionably his epic-scale, dystopic allegory Children of Men. It not only features a stellar cast in an engrossing narrative that plays out against a nightmarishly inventive dystopia, but is a show-stopping demonstration of long-form cinematography and seemless digital editing (the result of which are impossibly extended sequences that appear to play out within a single, extended tracking shot). It’s the kind of filmmaking that should have earned the man his first Oscar, and arrives just in time to remind us why we love his creative vision in the first place.
Green Room (2015)
The world is awful right now. Like, really, really awful. Children are being ripped from their asylum-seeking parents at the US-Mexico border and being locked in cages in concentration camps along the American southwest. Credibly accused (and in some cases self-confessed) rapists and sitting on the Supreme Court and in the White House respectively. Oh, and to top it all off, the Nazis are back too.
Well, at least the movies are good, right?
In fact, many of the best movies in recent years have directly addressed (and even predicted) these issues spilling over into the highest orders of government. Witchcraft in horror movies (in the form of Antichrist, The Witch, and The Autopsy of Jane Doe) predicted and now carry the torch of the #MeToo movement sweeping the world. Get Out (2017), Sorry to Bother You (2018) and BlacKkKlansman (2018) all tapped into the very real fears experienced by so many Black Americans in the world today. And movies like Green Room warned us about the very real threat posed by actual, factual Nazis in 21st century America.
The Other Side of the Wind (2018)
It’s not every day that you can say that you just saw the new Orson Welles movie. The man died in 1985. The last film he worked on was 1986’s The Transformers: The Movie. The man’s been pretty quiet for the last 30-odd years.
However, thanks to a few unexpected developments in international politics and the intervention of Netflix, an unfinished Welles film, feared lost following a tumultuous political uprising, has now been released on the streaming platform. The Other Side of the Wind — now officially the Citizen Kane (1941) director’s final work — offers the late filmmaker’s take on the changing scene of Hollywood following the collapse of the restrictive studio system. And while it may not be the best film of the year by any stretch, it is a fascinating cinematic artifact that Netflix subscribers should not pass up on.
Planet Hulk (2010)
One of the biggest films of 2018 was the remarkable Thor: Ragnarok (2017): a smart and radical deconstruction of the Thor mythos thus established and a scathing rebuke of colonialism in all of its forms. Predating Black Panther (2018) by nearly a year and complimenting its vision of a non-colonized African nation, it took the bones of the beloved Planet Hulk comic and built up one of the most powerful, important and best-told blockbusters of the last decade.
Although the animated, straight-to-video Planet Hulk is far from as exceptional, to say nothing of as radical, as its live-action counterpart, it more faithfully and directly adapts the comic which bears its name, making for a fascinating contrast with Taika Waititi’s hybrid of the Hulk and Thor franchises. Do you want more jolly green gladiator matches on an alien planet? Planet Hulk has you covered. Do you want to see what might have happened if Thor wasn’t there to snap Banner out of his protracted stint as Hulk? Planet Hulk has you covered. Do you want to see a horse-man Viking thunk Hulk in the head with a knockoff Mjolnir all his own with all of zero explanation as to what’s going on? Well, Planet Hulk has you covered there too.