Netflix has tens of thousands of hours of content, but that doesn't mean it's all great entertainment. TechHive's film critic will help you stream the very best movies the service has to offer.
By Jeffrey M. Anderson
Since it launched its first original movie in 2015, Netflix has become a true force in the entertainment biz, outpowering its contemporaries, seriously competing with big movie studios and the theater-going experience, racking up Oscars and Emmys, and even earning the honor of having a handful of its films released on Criterion DVDs and Blu-rays.
With new films and new shows coming every week, and all of Netflix’s original content archived for customers to look at again any time, the streaming service’s library of exclusive content now outweighs whatever licensed content it has. Here’s our rundown of the best Netflix original movies worth watching (and re-watching).
This story was updated on July 28 with nine additional picks, presented in alphabetical order. Our previous 18 picks follow.
While the end of slavery and the beginning of the Civil Rights movement were great moments in American history, Ava Duvernay’s shattering, essential 13th (2016) argues that they are connected by a long string of whites in power, cultivating a fear of Black people and using that fear to acquire not only more power, but wealth.
Named after the 13th amendment of the constitution, the movie argues that since slavery was a financial situation, the U.S.A. needed a way to regain those lost profits, and the wording of the amendment itself—“except as a punishment for crime”—provided the answer. In order to make money from a prison system, fear of Black people had to be created and spread. The film makes strong connections between many events of history, beginning with the amendment in 1865, including D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation, activities of most of the U.S. Presidents, the War on Drugs, and up to today. Many scholars, a few politicians, and activist Angela Davis are interviewed, and the presentation is thorough, calm, logical, and devastating. It’s an absolute must-see.
This beautiful movie from Senegal is an old-fashioned romantic tragedy that could have been written for a silent-era film, a social commentary, and a supernatural ghost story, all at the same time. Souleiman (Ibrahima Traoré) and several like-minded colleagues decide to take a boat to Spain to look for better work opportunities. He leaves behind his true love, Ada (Mame Bineta Sane), who is set to be married to the wealthy Omar (Babacar Sylla). On their wedding day, their bed catches fire, and a detective, Issa (Amadou Mbow), is assigned to investigate the case as potential arson. Meanwhile, at nightfall every night, several people seem to be possessed by spirits, their eyes turning into white orbs.
Directed by Mati Diop—who became the first Black woman with a film in competition at the Cannes Film Festival—Atlantics (2019) is quiet and poetic, seeing its images with an ethereal gaze, and moving through its familiar story threads with a fresh kind of mystery.
Bo Burnham: Inside
There will no doubt be many things written, recorded, and filmed about the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, but Bo Burnham: Inside (2021) will be among the most penetrating. The former stand-up comic turned director (Eighth Grade) and actor (Promising Young Woman) was about to take to the stage again when the pandemic hit, so he made this collection of funny, dark songs and sketches and clever lighting FX entirely in his home, entirely by himself.
There are laughs here, but Inside is largely a dispiriting dive into a suffering psyche, as potent as Pink Floyd The Wall. It’s impossible to tell where Burnham’s creative whirlwind begins and his descent into anxiety-ridden madness ends, but it feels like a true, unfettered unburdening of the soul.
El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie
Certainly one of the greatest TV series of all time, Breaking Bad wrapped up almost perfectly in 2013, but a few years later, Vince Gilligan offered this 122-minute coda. Essentially, it details Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) escaping from his captors and spending the entire movie trying to get the hell out of Dodge. And that’s it.
El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (2019) might be almost totally unnecessary, and it feels as if virtually nothing happens in it, and yet it’s like a riveting, masterful neo-Western, making incredible uses of sparse, vast, unfriendly spaces and creating rippling tension and emotional cascades. Some old familiar faces—including Badger (Matt Jones), Skinny Pete (Charles Baker), and Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks)—turn up, as well as some new ones. Robert Forster, who, astonishingly, passed away the day this premiered, is terrific.
Happy as Lazzaro
This acclaimed Italian film is somewhere in the realm of Forrest Gump and Being There, perhaps darker than the former but not as dark as the latter. Lazzaro (Adriano Tardiolo) is the simple farmhand, working tirelessly on a tobacco plantation, bossed around by everyone, but with a constant open-faced expression in his big eyes, forever trusting and hopeful.
When it is discovered that the farm’s owner has been illegally sharecropping, all the workers are displaced and sent away, although Lazarro, having fell over a cliff, missed this news. He goes on a kind of odyssey to find his former friends, and discovers corruption, connections, cruelty, and other strange things. Writer/director Alice Rohrwacher lets her Super 16 footage retain its rawness around the edges; she also allows Happy as Lazzaro (2018) to drift into unreality to help tell its deeply bittersweet tale.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things
The one-of-a-kind screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) offers his third film as a director (after Synecdoche, New York and Anomalisa), a twisty, shifting, dreamlike thing about a woman (Jessie Buckley) who goes with her boyfriend Jake (Jesse Plemons) to his parents’ house for dinner. They have strange, existential conversations in the car. Then, the parents (Toni Collette and David Thewlis) and a dog seem to age forward and backward, and food is consumed and then not consumed.
On the way home, they stop for a milkshake, and then at Jake’s old school, where a creepy janitor works and where a musical number happens! Kaufman fully inhabits the unstable, off-center world of I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020) with both intelligence and warmth of character. It does have a point, though, and the Iain Reid novel it’s based on might offer some clues.
David Fincher’s ode to old-time Hollywood, adapted from his own late father’s screenplay, is perhaps exclusively for film buffs. But if you’re in that club, it’s a treasure trove of riches, presented in a glorious, black-and-white, widescreen frame. Mank (2020) tells the story of screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) and his journey to writing Citizen Kane (certainly viewers should be familiar with that classic before tackling this).
Mank crosses paths with powerful newspaperman William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance) and his mistress, Hollywood performer Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried). The film also deals with the 1936 gubernatorial election in California and the underhanded fakery by conservatives that led to the defeat of the progressive candidate. Fincher does his best to make the passive story dynamic, and the film’s lush look, the old-fashioned, sparkly dialogue, and the performances by Oldman and Seyfried go a long way toward making it work.
Dee Rees’s follow-up to her remarkable debut Pariah, the excellent Mudbound (2017) is like a Gone with the Wind for the streaming age, a sweeping slice of Americana, epic, but intimate. It’s based on a novel by Hillary Jordan and features Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, Jason Mitchell, and Jonathan Banks. The story follows two farming families, one black and one white, over several years in and around WWII. In one crucial plot thread, a member of each family, Jamie (Garrett Hedlund) and Ronsel (Jason Mitchell), returns from war; they form an unlikely friendship, much to the rage of the rest of the community. (Ronsel is forced to duck down in the front seat of Jamie’s truck to avoid being seen in a place of equality.)
Mary J. Blige steals the movie in her role as Ronsel’s mother, a strong, caring midwife glaring from behind sunglasses, and received a Best Supporting Actress nomination (as well as one for Best Song). Many of the characters narrate their inner dreams, hopes, and fears in whispered voiceover, adding Malick-like poetry to the images. The 134-minute movie focuses on small incidents, having to do either with survival in the muddy farmland, or with the deep, frightening racism of that time and place, and never feels too overstuffed or too long.
Director Tamara Jenkins last gave us The Savages (2007) and earned an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay, but for some reason, didn’t or couldn’t make a follow-up until the equally excellent Private Life (2018), eleven years later. Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn play a middle-aged New York couple, Richard and Rachel, trying every conceivable method to have a baby, flitting back and forth between adoption centers and fertility treatments, until they come upon a plan.
Uneasy with the idea of an anonymous egg donor, their sort-of niece Sadie (Kayli Carter)—the child of Richard’s brother’s wife from a former marriage—begins to look like a good candidate. To their joy, Sadie agrees, but then the fallout starts. Jenkins is brilliant at juggling the unruly emotions of smart people, and somehow making their stories universal, funny, and heartbreaking. This is a wonderful film. John Carroll Lynch, Molly Shannon, and Denis O’Hare co-star.
How much does Netflix cost?
Netflix subscription prices have been on the rise over the past few years, but the service remains a strong entertainment value, especially when you take into consideration some of the great films that have been produced by and for Netflix. And if you enjoy the superior video resolution you’ll get from Blu-ray discs, you can opt for an added-cost subscription that includes disc rentals by mail, which was Netflix’s entire business model before streaming came into vogue.
A Netflix Basic subscription costs $8.99 per month and entitles you to watch an unlimited number of movies and TV shows in standard definition on one screen at a time. You can also download most, but not all, Netflix content to a single smartphone, tablet, or computer for watching when you’re not connected to the internet (such as while traveling by car, mass transit, or airline).
Most people opt for the Standard subscription at $13.99 per month, because it increases streaming resolution to HD, allows you to download allowed content to two devices for offline viewing. If you want 4K Ultra HD video, and your internet connection is fast enough to deliver it (you’ll need broadband service of at least 25Mbps ), sign up for the $17.99-per-month Premium plan. In addition to the higher resolution (it’s worth noting that Netflix doesn’t stream everything in 4K), you’ll be able to watch on four screens at once, and you can download video to four devices.
Renting DVD and Blu-ray discs from Netflix isn’t the value it once was, but no one would argue it isn’t convenient (albeit not as instantly gratifying). The cost to add disc rentals to whatever subscription tier you select is the same as subscribing to a Netflix disc-only plan: $7.99 per month entitles you to rent an unlimited number of DVDs (or Blu-ray discs if your chosen title is available in that format and you opt in to that choice) delivered to your door. There are no late fees and Netflix pays for postage in both directions. The catch is that you can have just one disc checked out at a time. A $11.99-per-month subscription increases that to two discs out a time.
The amazing Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan, offer up this anthology Western with six strange stories, ranging from the hilarious—Tim Blake Nelson as the verbose sharpshooter in the title story—to the disquieting, i.e. Liam Neeson and Harry Melling in “Meal Ticket,” about an armless, legless actor. James Franco is very funny in a beautifully constructed episode about winding up at the wrong end of a rope, Brendan Gleeson plays a rider on a stagecoach whose destination is uncertain, and Zoe Kazan stars as a troubled woman on a wagon train.
Tom Waits appears in a wonderful episode, “All Gold Canyon,” faithfully adapted from a Jack London story, although Waits’ gravelly warbling of the song “Mother Macree” as he works is probably not something London envisioned. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018) is as expansively beautiful as the Coens’ other Westerns True Grit and No Country for Old Men, but it’s also as dark and as mysterious as Barton Fink.
Da 5 Bloods
Spike Lee’s grandiose Vietnam-set, treasure-hunting adventure Da 5 Bloods (2020) is full of many full-blooded themes and filled with righteous fury. Four war buddies who fought in Vietnam reunite, officially to locate the remains of their beloved squad leader (played in flashbacks by Chadwick Boseman), but unofficially to collect a cache of buried gold. They are: the tormented, angry Paul (Delroy Lindo, in a great, ferocious performance), the kindly Otis (Clarke Peters), the pigeon-toed Eddie (Norm Lewis), and laid-back Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.).
Into his heady brew, Lee throws in long-buried landmines, an old jungle temple, a MAGA hat, Black Lives Matter, Martin Luther King Jr., the involvement of Black soldiers in a white war, and shocking revelations about the war itself. Terence Blanchard’s Oscar-nominated score—thick and lavish, sounding like beauty and sorrow entwined—makes the production seem even more operatic.
The Forty-Year-Old Version
Playwright Radha Blank made her screenwriting and directing debut with the comedy-drama The Forty-Year-Old Version (2020), loosely based on her own life. She stars as, of course, Radha, a once-promising playwright who won a “30 under 30” award and now approaches 40 without having produced a follow-up. She’s teaching, while weighing a sellout job working on a musical about Harriet Tubman. But, in a strange epiphany, she suddenly decides to become a rapper called “RadhaMUSprime.”
The black-and-white film doesn’t always land its laughs, and it’s a bit too long at 123 minutes, but Blank does a truly remarkable job of translating her experiences and struggles to the screen without a hint of ego or self-consciousness. Her Radha character is, actually, delightfully clueless and honest. The rest of the cast, from Radha’s best friend and agent Archie (Peter Kim), to her flirty, horny writing students, are likewise delightful.
This devastating horror film, directed by Remi Weekes, tells the story of a couple, Bol (Sope Dirisu) and Rial (Wunmi Mosaku), who flee South Sudan for a new life in England. They lose their daughter along the way, we learn, and they are placed in a wretched house, where they must live by several strict rules or be deported.
Bol tries to fit in, while Rial continues to embrace her traditions. But soon, scary spirits appear in the house, and before long, Bol is tearing at the wallpaper and bashing in the drywall to stop the torment. Filled with strange visions, powerful depictions of cultural divides, and impeccable storytelling, His House (2020) has a confident flow, placing us right there with this suffering couple, as it slowly unfolds their real story, and the real reason an apeth (night witch) has followed them. And it’s plenty scary, too.
A masterpiece from Martin Scorsese, The Irishman (2019) is both a summation of his long career’s worth of gangster movies, and a rumination on them. Using ground-breaking digital effects to de-age the actors, the film tells the story of Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), who narrates his tale from a rest home. He goes from being a truck driver to a hit man for crime boss Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci), and then a union president alongside Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino, who snarls and barks and chews the scenery with fresh gusto).
The violence here is not intoxicating as it was in GoodFellas or Casino; it’s more reflective, and, indeed, has more in common with Scorsese’s faith-based movies (The Last Temptation of Christ, Kundun, and Silence). It’s a reflective movie, wondering what all this means, and perhaps even aware that it might mean nothing at all. Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale, Anna Paquin, Jesse Plemons, and Harvey Keitel are also among the impressive cast.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Produced by Denzel Washington, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020) is the second of August Wilson’s plays to be adapted to the screen, after Washington’s own Fences. It’s an incredible film, far more dynamic than most adaptations of plays, and blasting through its 94 minutes with jumping, stomping, and sweating.
In the 1920s, blues singer Ma Rainey (Viola Davis) and her band arrive to cut some sides in a white-run recording studio in Chicago. In her panda-bear makeup and sinister gold teeth, Ma is a fierce figure, wielding a certain amount of power, but only for her immediate gratification, and Davis’s performance is masterful. Even more powerful is the final work by the unparalleled Chadwick Boseman as the swaggering trumpeter Levee. Director George C. Wolfe uses the studio’s spaces, its high windows, its dank basement, and a mysterious door, as part of the movie’s fabric, all the pieces snapping together as it sings through its rage.
The Korean director Bong Joon-ho became something of a household name after winning multiple Oscars for his great Parasite. His earlier film, the slick, international, all-star Okja (2017), contains some of the same themes; i.e., humanity as monsters. It’s perhaps his busiest, but most playful work, offering laughs, thrills, weird visuals, and some disconcerting thoughts about food.
CEO Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton) has developed a kind of super-pig designed to ease world hunger and bolster her company’s image. The pigs have been sent to the four corners of the world to be raised by local methods, to see which works best. A young girl in rural Korea, Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun), is clearly the winner, but she has also bonded with her pig, Okja. When Okja is picked up and shipped off to the city, she follows, like a pint-sized action hero. She meets a group of eco-terrorists called the Animal Liberation Front (members played by Paul Dano, Lily Collins, and others), who have a plan. Shirley Henderson and Giancarlo Esposito co-star, and Swinton has a dual role as her own twin sister, but Jake Gyllenhaal steals the show as an outlandish television host, in the looniest performance he has ever given.
Rolling Thunder Revue
Martin Scorsese took on Bob Dylan as a documentary subject once before, in 2005, with No Direction Home, perhaps as part of a long tradition of trying to discover the “real” Dylan. That nearly four-hour movie, made with the cooperation of Dylan himself, more or less concluded that the “real” Dylan can’t be pinned down, and, indeed, may not even exist. So, logically, Scorsese’s follow-up, Rolling Thunder Revue (2019), doesn’t even bother, and cheerfully includes passages that are total fabrications.
Based around a 1975 concert tour that involved weird costumes and make-up, the movie features plenty of great, classic songs and interviews with people who may or may not be telling true stories. (Hint: Michael Murphy appears here as a version of the politician character he played in Robert Altman’s mini-series Tanner ‘88.) Scorsese assembled the concert footage using restored outtakes from Dylan’s 1978 movie Renaldo and Clara.
The Trial of the Chicago 7
Aaron Sorkin’s long, complex re-telling of the trial following the events of the 1968 Democratic National Convention is a surprisingly well-oiled machine. It moves slickly—and is even funny—as Sorkin’s trademark machine-gun dialogue punches cleanly through the details. Sorkin might have changed some facts here and there, but as a dramatic movie The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020) still works like gangbusters.
The gist is that newly-empowered Republicans want to make an example out of a group of peaceful, liberal protestors, and conjure up a huge trial based on ridiculous “crimes.” Sacha Baron Cohen steals the show as the headline-grabber Abbie Hoffman, but the entire cast is excellent, riding high on Sorkin’s screenplay and brisk direction (much sharper than in his directorial debut Molly’s Game). Frank Langella is especially strong as the sinister, malevolent Judge Julius Hoffman, while the treatment of Black Panther member Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is just as shocking as ever.
Co-written by and starring Randall Park and Ali Wong, the romantic comedy Always Be My Maybe (2019) follows a pretty standard romantic comedy formula, but is so constantly, surprisingly fresh and bracing along the way that it feels like something new; it’s crazier and richer than Crazy Rich Asians. Park and Wong play childhood friends who have a falling out after an awkward attempt at teenage sex.
As adults, Wong has become an ambitious celebrity chef and Park is content performing his silly, catchy hip-hop songs in whatever small, local San Francisco venues will have him. Wong arrives in town to open a new restaurant, and all the old feelings tumble out again. With Park’s unhurried delivery and Wong’s frantic intensity, the two stars have a perfectly complimentary chemistry, and Keanu Reeves’s much-memed cameo is the icing on top. Daniel Dae Kim and Vivian Bang play the romantic rivals, and Fresh Off the Boat creator Nahnatchka Khan directs.
Beasts of No Nation
Netflix’s very first original streaming movie, Cary Joji Fukunaga’s Beasts of No Nation (2015) caused quite a controversy when it first arrived; certain theater chains boycotted it, and then (possibly in relation to this), the film received no Oscar nominations, sparking an outrage about lack of cultural diversity. (#OscarsSoWhite) But all that aside, the movie itself is a powerhouse, brutal, crisply-paced, and still somewhat optimistic.
Abraham Attah gives an astonishing performance as Agu, a young boy caught in an African civil war. When his father and brother are killed, he runs into the jungle and is discovered by a band of guerrilla soldiers, most of them not much older than Agu, and led by the fearsome Commandant (Idris Elba). Commandant ensures their survival, but also exposes them to shocking horrors. In one heartbreaking moment, we see how Agu has become numb, laughing and playing games as men are shot behind him. Elba’s creation is monstrous, proud and vain and vile, and the actor received numerous other nominations and awards for his performance.
Dolemite Is My Name
The biopic Dolemite Is My Name (2019), written by the masters of the biopic, Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (Ed Wood, The People vs. Larry Flynt, Man on the Moon, Big Eyes), focuses on what some might consider a marginal talent, Rudy Ray Moore. He was a struggling musician and comedian who finally finds a hit with his “Dolemite” character, and decides to make his very own, low-budget movie, regardless of talent or know-how.
Eddie Murphy gives a masterful performance as Moore, one of his career best, finding moments of pride, humanity, and humility in the off-beat character. Wesley Snipes is hilarious as the dubious director D’Urville Martin, but Da’Vine Joy Randolph, as performer Lady Reed, is the key to the whole thing. On the day of the premiere, she tells Rudy, “I’d never seen nobody that looks like me up there on that big screen,” and it’s a moment for the ages.
The king of Netflix horror, Mike Flanagan is the man behind Before I Wake and Hush, as well as the series The Haunting of Hill House. His Gerald’s Game (2017) is surely one of the best Stephen King adaptations of recent years. Set almost entirely inside a bedroom, it echoes Misery, but tells its own incredible story, with its own psychologically powerful twists.
Jessie (Carla Gugino) and her husband Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) head to a remote lake house for a weekend of sex, but just as Gerald begins to get uncomfortably kinky, he dies of a heart attack, leaving Jessie cuffed to the bed. A stray dog comes into the picture (shades of Cujo), and she begins speaking to apparitions of herself and her husband, and experiencing memories of her childhood that somehow pertain to her current situation. Worse, she begins to see a monster, a tall thing carrying a box of bones, in the dark corner. Many horror movies drop the ball before the end, but Flanagan sees this one out to a logical, humanistic, and satisfying conclusion.
I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore
The wonderful, unsung New Zealand-born actress Melanie Lynskey stars in I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore (2017) as Ruth Kimke, a nursing assistant who has a very bad day. A patient dies in front of her (after some nasty, vulgar last words), a man in a bar ruins a huge plot twist in a book she’s reading, and, to top it off, her home is burgled. The cops do little but scold her for not locking up tighter, but when her phone shows the location of her stolen laptop, she enlists a wacko neighbor, Tony (a perfect Elijah Wood), who has a collection of ninja throwing stars, to help get it back. From there, they find clues leading to the rest of her stolen goods, mainly her grandmother’s silverware, but things take a very weird turn.
This is the directorial debut of actor Macon Blair (Blue Ruin and Green Room); Blair also wrote the screenplay, and it cannily, and hilariously deals in life’s most mundane sorrows and searchings, the kind of stuff that most movies simply ignore. The movie’s shift in tone from its first half to its second can be shocking, but, eventually, strangely satisfying.
The Little Prince
Based on one of the most popular books of all time (Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s 1943 novella), Mark Osborne’s animated movie version of The Little Prince (2016) is a wonderfully creative, soul-soothing work. It was originally shown in Cannes in a French-language version, but Netflix offers an English-dubbed version. In this updated version of the story, we meet “the aviator” as an old man (voiced by Jeff Bridges). He once encountered the Little Prince and now tries to tell his story to a modern-day little girl (voiced by Mackenzie Foy). The girl’s uptight mother (voiced by Rachel McAdams) wishes for her to get into a good school and determines that things like friends, stories, and imagination are unworthy of her time. Happily, the girl eventually goes on her own adventure.
The modern storyline is computer-animated, while the classic “Little Prince” material is beautifully animated with stop-motion. The focus is less on noise and flash and more on storytelling and joyous images, and it’s a standout for families as well as movie buffs.
Noah Baumbach’s quasi-intellectual New York dramas usually owe more than a little to Woody Allen, and are frequently anxious and irritating, but for this film, he dug much deeper and struck something more honest. And, with cooler actors (Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson), rather than, say, the high-strung Ben Stiller and Dustin Hoffman in Baumbauch’s other Netflix film (The Meyerowitz Stories), Marriage Story (2019) achieves a genuinely touching emotional center.
Driver and Johansson play a New York showbiz couple—he’s a theater director, and she’s a movie actress—whose relationship begins to crumble, even though they still more or less like each other. The movie documents the ups and downs of the process of their splitting up, and its use of narration—as part of their couples counseling therapy—is inspired. The two leads received Oscar nominations, as did Laura Dern as Johansson’s shrewd, vicious lawyer.
The Other Side of the Wind
After making Citizen Kane at the age of 25, Orson Welles never had it so easy ever again. He made 12 more movies, and though they’re all great, they suffered increasingly smaller budgets, and more haphazard productions. He spent the final years of his life, until his death in 1985, trying to find money to finish his many unfinished projects. Chief among these was The Other Side of the Wind (2018), about a 70 year-old filmmaker (John Huston) trying to finish a film while surrounded by people who either admire him or betray him. Extremely strange and arty, but incredibly inventive and mesmerizing, the movie was shot between 1970 and 1976 and was more or less completed—three sequences were even edited—but sections of the film were owned by different financiers and no one could agree on how to get it all together.
Filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich, who also appears in the film, spent decades fighting for it. Finally the power of Netflix sealed the deal, and a miracle happened: a new Orson Welles film arrived. See also Morgan Neville’s essential accompanying documentary They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead.
Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma (2018) was the film of its year and one of the best of its decade, a beautiful, black-and-white meditation on the filmmaker’s childhood years in Mexico (in Spanish and Mixtec, with English subtitles). It focuses on Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), the maid for a well-to-do family, over the course of a year in the early 1970s. The family’s husband leaves for another woman, and the wife (Marina de Tavira) tries to hold it all together, while Cleo finds herself pregnant and her boyfriend gone. With vast, and yet intricate, exquisite cinematography and sound design, Cuarón balances dark forebodings, moments of lightness and joy, and shocking tragedies, with a sense of true poetry.
As with the director’s Oscar-winning Gravity, this is an astonishing visual and technical marvel, but also—like another of Cuarón’s stories of young women, A Little Princess—it’s delicate and affectionate. An ode to both cinema past and future, it reaches for levels achieved by Welles, Kubrick, and other masters, and gets there.
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