From Lust Stories to Roma, the top 10 online streaming movies of 2018
2018 has been a pivotal year for movies both in India and abroad. While the Hindi film industry saw a major change in the sort of movies that did well at the box office - and even in the audiences’ tastes - Hollywood seems to have decided, once and for all, that it should embrace change rather than be afraid of it.
Some of the best films of the year have been released on online streaming platforms. A compromise seems to have been struck between filmmakers and streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon. After holding out for years, Netflix in 2018 altered its release model to accommodate a brief theatrical window for its original films - a move that resulted in the platform attracting some of the brightest filmmakers in the world.
In the matter of a couple of months, Netflix released films by Oscar-winning talent such as the Coen Brothers, Paul Greengrass, Alfonso Cuaron, and most unbelievably, Orson Welles. And with their 2019 slate set to include movies by Steven Soderbergh, Dan Gilroy and the greatest coup of them all, Martin Scorsese, it’s unlikely that any filmmaker would snub their nose at the creative freedom afforded by streaming - especially now that they’re getting their theatrical release as well.
Amazon Studios has always used this model, by the way. But only a couple of years after it produced major Oscar contenders such as Manchester by the Sea and The Big Sick, Amazon has announced that it would henceforth be focussing on tentpole films.
Their strategies, however, remain different. While Amazon finds itself caught in a web of its own making, with a curiously impersonal slate of hyperlocal content and prestige fare, Netflix seems to be well on its way in creating content aimed at every kind of human being imaginable.
This leaves us spoiled for choice. Here are the top 10 best original movies to have been distributed by streaming services.
Alex Garland’s adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s unreadable science-fiction novel takes all the best parts about the book, and makes it better. It’s a bold piece of filmmaking that positively demands repeat viewings, not only to understand the intricacies of its plot, but to fully appreciate the beauty of Garland’s ideas and visuals. Annihilation was one of the first of many studio films to have been sold to Netflix in a case of cold feet - the most recent was Andy Serkis’ Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle.
Through four short films, directed by four of the country’s most prominent Hindi filmmakers - Anurag Kashyap, Zoya Akhtar, Dibakar Banerjee and Karan Johar - Netflix’s Lust Stories presents unusual stories that feel fresh, yet familiar. It’s almost like a sampling platter that you might find at a fancy restaurant, an unexpected marriage of contrasting styles and sensibilities, tones and textures that highlights the best (and worse) of what we have to offer as a country.
In times like these, perhaps our own industry can take a lesson or two from 22 July in how to correctly show cinematic nationalism - it’s the people who matter, and not the politics. Norway could have responded in several different ways after the 22 July attacks by the deranged mass-murderer, Anders Behring Breivik. They could have reacted out of fear and given in to his mad demands, or they could have very understandably considered this as an extreme case and bent certain rules. But they didn’t. As their then Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg, says in the film, “We will fight him with the rule of law and not with the barrel of a gun.”
They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead
In perhaps one of the strangest stories to emerge in the world of film this year, Netflix released the long-deceased legend Orson Welles’ final, incomplete film, after overseeing its editing. The film, The Other Side of the Wind, was accompanied by a documentary about the decades that went into making it. They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead is the tragic story of Welles’ final years, when he was chewed up and spit out by the same industry that once declared him the greatest American filmmaker to have ever lived.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
No other film has captured the zeitgeist quite like To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, a low-budget romantic comedy that is considered the crowning achievement of Netflix’s Summer of Love. It featured no stars - although it most certainly made at least a couple - and was released with next to no buzz. But in the following couple of weeks, it went on to become the streaming service’s most successful original movie of the year, boosting the sales of Yakult and notching up more than 40 million streams. That translates to about twice the box office takings of the summer’s breakout rom-com hit, Crazy Rich Asians.
The proudest moment of the year - not just for Netflix but for streaming in general - had to have been the release of director Alfonso Cuaron’s masterpiece love-letter to the women who raised him, Roma. Shot in luxurious black and white, and told with the simplicity and complexity of an ancient folktale, were Roma to be as successful during the awards season as everyone expects it to be, then we’re looking at the single most influential movie of the year. After this, every rule in the rulebook will have to be rewritten.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
As someone very astutely put it, with their anthology The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, the Coen Brothers have given us six excellent Westerns for the price of one. It’s a terrific example of just how masterfully the Coens can alter the mood of their piece - we can go from garish silliness to morbid horror in the span of minutes, and often in the same segment. We’ve talked about how Netflix has redefined the rom-com, how it has become the go-to place for true crime, but we never mention the public service they’ve done for Westerns.
Ideally, there should have been more documentary features on this list than just two, but perhaps because of this crunch, you can rest assured that both docs listed here are some of the finest you’ll watch. Shirkers tells the almost unbelievable true story of a group of Singaporean filmmakers who in the early ‘90s decided to make the country’s first real movie. But what happened next is so surreal that it deserves to be personally experienced, and not read about here.
Hold the Dark
Hold the Dark is the latest film by Jeremy Saulnier, a blazingly natural filmmaker whose stark plots reveal us to be the easily corruptible souls that we are. You might have seen his exceptional revenge drama, Blue Ruin, or his claustrophobic spin on the torture porn genre, Green Room, in which he had the bright idea of casting Sir Patrick Stewart as the leader of a Neo-Nazi gang of skinheads. This is probably the biggest scale he’s ever worked on. Hold the Dark isn’t an easy watch - if the dourness doesn’t get you, the violence will - but it’s gripping. From the very first scene, it latches onto your neck and drags you, despite your protests, to where it wants you. And in its final moments, it goes in for the kill.
You Were Never Really Here
Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here is deeply serene film, punctuated with unexpected bursts of graphic thematic and visual violence – like an Icelandic fjord disturbed by a plane crash. For nearly its entire, crisp 90-minute length, it is virtually silent – the blasts of a gun or the screams of death providing the only break from a characteristically terrific and typically eclectic score by Johnny Greenwood. Like Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, one of my favourite films of all time and an obvious influence on You Were Never Really Here – especially in its cool, clinical visuals – it’s as much a story of a sprawling city and its many secrets as it is a character study of a very complicated man, played here by Joaquin Phoenix. There is shocking darkness beneath both.
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