Written By: Daniel Kinsley
The way we consume media changed forever with the arrival of streaming services. This has been both a blessing and a curse in many ways, least of all being the sheer glut of options available at any given time. While it is undoubtedly a first world problem, the reality is that films and TV shows remain a huge part of our experience, and not everything that drops is going to get the kind of word of mouth that turned Stranger Things into a phenomenon.
More often, this writer has found that most people fall into two groups; those who have too many things to watch, and not nearly enough time (hand raised, over here) or those who surf Netflix endlessly in search of a gem among the pile before turning back to old reruns of an old favorite. This issue has only been compounded by Netflix’s expanding model; the streaming service has nearly 30 original films scheduled for release in 2017, and frankly they haven’t always done a good job of advertising their films. To hear David Ehrlich of Indiewire tell it:
“Netflix doesn’t help movies find an audience any more than it helps audiences find a movie… The streaming service is a volatile sea of content that likes to measure itself in terms of dimension rather than depth…It’s an all-you-can-eat buffet that stretches further than the eye can see, and most people are likely to lose their appetite before they discover the good stuff.”
With that in mind, this writer hopes to help some of our readers find their new favorite movie (or at least, a great way to kill a couple hours with a few of the best original films Netflix has released this year). This is not intended to be a comprehensive list, but for any readers willing to trust in us, you might find that gem you’ve been looking for. All these films are available on Netflix now!
I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore
The directorial debut of actor Macon Blair may have been released all the way back in February, but the film remains a serious contender for this writer’s top ten list of 2017. Melanie Lynskey stars as Ruth, a depressed suburbanite who is finally pushed to the limits of her ennui after her apartment is burgled. After the police do very little in the way of follow-up, Ruth teams up with her oddball neighbor Tony (a gleefully weird Elijah Wood, doing what he does best) to solve the mystery of what happened to her stuff. It is a film with more than a few tonal shifts, and it really should not work; flipping from a pitch-black comedy to a credible crime flick and back again over and over. It is a wonder then, that not only does it work, but that it is genuinely great. It helps of course that Blair wrote the script, giving him command of his unique voice, but more than anything, this is Lynskey’s moment to shine. The chemistry between Ruth and Tony is sweet, and weird, and much like the rest of the events in the film, totally believable despite how outrageous it all seems. It is a confident, funny film, and one well-worth discovering if the wait for the next outing from the Coen Brothers seems too far off.
What if science were able to definitively prove there was an afterlife? In The Discovery, Dr. Thomas Harbor (Robert Redford) has done just that. The unanticipated consequence of this revelation, however, is the alarming rate of suicide that follows, as people who are tired of this life seek to discover what comes next. It is a great hook, and while the film has some interesting ideas about faith, and consciousness, it is a story driven far more by emotions than science, which may turn some viewers off. Jason Segal turns in an understated dramatic performance as Dr. Harbor’s estranged son, Will, a man who becomes inextricably caught up not only in his father’s work but in the fate of a mysterious woman played by Rooney Mara. Avoid digging around too much, lest the film’s surprises be revealed, as they are half the fun. Look, call this writer a sap if you will, but for those of you do not mind your sci-fi playing to your heart strings (think Interstellar  or the later seasons of Lost) this is a must-see.
Win It All
With Win It All, Joe Swanberg, the famously improvisational mumblecore filmmaker made what amounts to his most traditional film. The writer/director’s third collaboration with Jake Johnson (of New Girl fame) sees Johnson playing Eddie, a sad sack gambler who will look familiar to any Nick Miller fans out there. When Eddie agrees to look after a duffel bag for an associate facing a short prison stint, he also agrees not to look inside the bag. Eventually, though, he cannot resist the mystery; when he finds a large stack of cash, he begins to siphon it off to gamble. Soon, he is knee deep in lost bets and has to find a way to win back the money. This may sound like the sort of crime-caper audiences have seen a million times before, but it is a much smaller film, with far lower stakes. It feels of a mind of the sort of films that were far more popular in the ’70s, a slice of life film about a guy who thinks he’s James Caan, but is actually in way over his head. Heavy on improvisation and stacked with a great supporting cast (Jordan Peele, Joe Lo Truglio) this is a hilarious and heartfelt winner.
The Meyerowitz Stories: New and Selected (October, 2017)
Up until recently, Noah Baumbach was not a filmmaker who did much for this writer. While the indie auteur has made a successful career out of mining bourgeois upper class families, and millennials with delusions of grandeur, it was not until he married those themes in While We’re Young (2014) that this writer joined the converted. Meyerowitz confidently continues that winning streak, even if it does nothing to broaden his thematic interests. It is less concerned with plotting than it is with its characters; it is mostly a series of connected vignettes populated by its title characters: the eccentric patriarch, Harold (Dustin Hoffman), his latest wife Maureen (Emma Thompson) and his three children, Jean (Elizabeth Marvel), Matthew (Ben Stiller) and Danny (Adam Sandler). It’s quite a showcase for all involved, however, Stiller and Sandler, in particular come out the best. Stiller has been on something of a dramatic hot streak for a while now, but Adam Sandler has not been this good since Punch Drunk Love (2005) and it seems no accident that the film taps into the potentially more painful roots of Sandler’s man-child persona. It is a truly terrific performance, subtle, and wounded, and graceful. It is a potent reminder of just how good he can be when he feels like showing up. While it is undoubtedly a Baumbach flick, this writer feels comfortable placing it alongside the best work of peers like Wes Anderson, and Woody Allen.
The Babysitter (October, 2017)
In the midst of our Halloween coverage, the newest film from McG somehow slipped through the cracks, but not because it is unworthy. Cole (Judah Lewis) is a typical nerdy adolescent type, the kind of kid who is the ire of the neighborhood bullies. What makes it all survivable is the presence of his very attractive, yet somehow astonishingly genre-savvy babysitter Bee (Samara Weaving). When Cole stays up past his bedtime one night to see what Bee gets up to after he goes to sleep, he discovers that his dream girl is a bit of a nightmare. Once things get rolling, it remains small, and a bit predictable, but it is also a lot of fun; when it comes to horror-comedies films, style and execution remain hugely important. In many ways, the film effectively feels like a throwback to fun 80s horror flicks like Fright Night (1985) and it does so without resorting to nostalgia strings like many modern properties have. The supporting cast is clearly having fun, and they are all game, but this story belongs to Cole and Bee, and the chemistry between the leads is everything it needs to be. Lewis is charming in the role, but it is Weaving who steals the show. After spotting her during the Telluride Horror Show (where she walked away with Mayhem ) this writer has kept an eye out for the Aussie, who is so good in this role you will find yourself willing to forgive the gross archetype of the hot girl who also likes Star Trek. Heavy on both gore and laughs, this is a perfect movie for date night, as long as nobody is too squeamish.
Wheelman (October, 2017)
More than any other genre, the best crime films have an air of authenticity. While the world is not short on films about getaway drivers, it is an idea that is easy to put a unique spin on. Wheelman succeeds by carrying on some of the traditions of its forebears (the nameless protagonist, the heist gone wrong) while stylistically going for something more unique and daring. Nearly the entire film takes place inside a vehicle, and while there is a murderer’s row of character actors showing up (including usual standouts like Shea Whigham and Garret Dillahunt) this is mostly a one man show. Frank Grillo has not really had that breakout role yet, but he is a damn near perfect action hero; grizzled and tough, but with the acting chops to confidently pull off this kind of showcase. While the film is punctuated by brief, muscular action, calibrate expectations accordingly; Fast and Furious this is not. It feels more like the sort of low-key suspenseful thriller Michael Mann might have made back in the day. Combine one part Drive (2011) with two parts Locke (2013) and the result might look very much like Wheelman.