5. Annihilation (2018)
Region: Worldwide excluding US
The movie: Alex Garland’s follow-up to the sleeper hit Ex Machina was surprisingly sold by Paramount to Netflix for distribution outside the US, and not everyone was impressed… including the writer-director himself. However, seeing how many independent and niche genre movies struggle in cinemas today, you could argue that it was a reasonable decision, especially as it sold only about 3.5 million tickets in cinemas. Yet it’s estimated that Netflix viewing numbers have dwarfed the cinema haul (although they’re still painfully secretive about revealing solid figures). The movie is a cerebral sci-fi horror about a group of scientists who encounter terrifying creatures and landscapes inside a so-called Area X, where people have mysteriously disappeared recently.
Why you should watch it: Natalie Portman leads a fantastic cast and gives a typically powerful performance in the lead role. The movie twists and turns, and Garland’s brilliantly creative mind is on full display in the horror-infused Area X sequences. It’s a challenging watch, but very rewarding.
4. I Lost My Body (2019)
The movie: A French animation about a severed hand trying to reconnect with its owner is a darkly funny adventure-drama that’s packed with pathos. After escaping a Parisian hospital, the independent hand traverses the city – fending off oncoming traffic, erratic pigeons and feral rats along the way – in an impossible quest to rejoin the body it once belonged to, that of clumsy loner Naoufel.
Why should you watch it? I Lost My Body is a study of scaled-down, ground-level danger, with great comedy found in the detail. It’s also a meditation on fractured identity, heightened by the hand’s poignant hope for reconciliation. Director/co-writer Jeremy Clapin sensitively combines melancholy with an ultimately life-affirming message.
3. Marriage Story (2019)
The movie: A couple working in the entertainment business – one stage director, one actor – find their marriage increasingly strained by the pressures of distance and an increasingly cut-throat industry. With their son Henry caught in the middle, the pair embark on an increasingly bitter, embattled divorce case that threatens to ruin both their personal and professional lives.
Why should you watch it? If you only know Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver from their roles in the franchise movies, then you’ve only seen them at half-tilt. You owe it to yourself to watch the incredibly stripped-back, emotional performances from two actors at the peak of their powers. It’s also a nice reminder than Netflix is continually providing a space for brave, raw storytelling that otherwise wouldn’t get the attention it deserves.
2. The Irishman (2019)
The movie: Martin Scorsese’s crime epic charts the rise (and fall) of Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran and shining a light on the infamous real-life dealings of Jimmy Hoffa and the Teamsters movement in the '60s. Set across five decades, we follow Sheeran from early beginnings as a fixer for crime boss Russell Bufalino through to his twilight years, and all the moments and memories that make up his blood-soaked life in-between.
Why should you watch it? Martin Scorsese. Robert De Niro. Al Pacino. Joe Pesci. Just reading those names gives you an idea of what to expect; their presence is shorthand for meaty, morbidly funny storytelling wrapped up in a world-class movie. It’s arguably Scorsese’s most mature work, too. The crushing final act is surprisingly reflective and could only be made by a director and cast that know they’re here for one last rodeo. If Scorsese, Pesci et al bow out after The Irishman, they can do so with their heads held high.
1. Roma (2018)
The movie: If entries two through four on this list are leaving a bit downbeat, rejoice, for here we have a life-affirming, beautiful and moving piece of pure auteur cinema by Alfonso Cuarón. As grounded as his Gravity was heightened, Cuarón paints an intimate, black-and-white but still eye-poppingly vivid portrait of the life of a family in Mexico during the turbulent times of the 1970s.
Why you should watch it: While the wider context of the movie is certainly cloudy, if not entirely dark, there is a brilliant light at the heart of this movie. With glorious performances, a pitch-perfect script, gorgeous cinematography, an impeccable eye for detail and an unfiltered, unhindered artistic vision, Roma isn’t just the best Netflix Original movie yet; it’s one of the finest pieces of cinema this entire decade.