From The Irishman to Marriage Story, the top 10 streaming films of 2019
Martin Scorsese has described the arrival of streaming as the single most important revolution in the history of cinema since sound. He ought to know; the legendary filmmaker made his digital debut in November, with the release of his long-gestating passion project The Irishman.
No other studio wanted anything to do with it, balking under the pressure of its projected budget, and terrified of its lack of mass appeal. Only Netflix, Scorsese has said, wanted to invest in his vision. Ultimately, the film cost about as much as a Marvel movie, but had a central cast whose average age was probably around 65; and although its state-of-the-art visual effects could possibly alter the landscape of cinema, it had none of the spectacle of an Avengers film.
Films like The Irishman find a home online because they can’t find one in traditional theatres. At least not anymore. Which is why some of the biggest filmmakers in the world -- everyone from Alfonso Cuaron and Steven Soderbergh to Michael Bay and Fernando Meirelles -- have successfully been lured online.
A year after Netflix and Amazon tested the waters with films such as Roma and Cold War -- both were massively successful at the Oscars -- streamers in 2019 emerged as legitimate movie studios, churning out films for all demographics, and of various scales.
With new players such as Disney and Apple entering the fray, the streaming wars have officially begun. There will be a lot of drivel, of course. And tragically, there will be gems that are lost amid all the mediocrity. But that is the purpose of lists such as this.
Here are the top 10 streaming movies of 2019, from number 10 to number one.
Religion, tradition, and identity clash in director Minhal Baig’s deeply personal film, released on Apple TV+ on December 6 after a buzzy Sundance premiere. Hala is a story about the immigrant experience, and the often volatile mixture of American values and Asian attitudes.
Playing out like a two-hour-long post-credits scene, El Camino is an unexpected but not entirely unnecessary new chapter in the Breaking Bad saga. It is about the corrosion of one man’s psyche, and the eventual rebirth of his soul.
On this list, you will see several examples of legitimately great movies that were, for some reason, buried by Netflix. The absolute disappearance of Paddleton, director Alex Lehmann and writer-actor Mark Duplass’ follow-up to their tremendous Blue Jay, was particularly difficult to swallow. But spreading the word about it, in whatever way possible, is truly why lists such as this exist. Had it been granted a theatrical release, an Oscar nod for Ray Romano would’ve been on the cards.
I Lost My Body
Delicately animated and deftly written, Netflix’s I Lost My Body is one of the finest films of 2019; a stunningly original vision that will no doubt find tremendous love at the Oscars, just like it did at the Cannes Film Festival, where it premiered to warm enthusiasm over the summer.
Featuring breathtaking visuals and strong central performances, Amazon’s The Aeronauts is a film brimming with technical excellence. Reuniting Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones for the first time on screen since The Theory of Everything, it is also a film about human ambition, although it being sneakily retrofitted as a feminist fable might be morally questionable to some.
A year after it was reported that Donald Glover and Rihanna were working on a secret project together in Cuba, the results were ready to be shown to the world.Amazon’s Guava Island isn’t the duet album that many would’ve expected, nor is it a concert documentary. It’s a narrative film - at 55 minutes barely long enough to be called a feature - that adds to the aura of Glover’s alter ego, Childish Gambino, and reasserts his stature as one of America’s foremost creative artistes.
Velvet Buzzsaw is a deliriously entertaining and frighteningly pulpy movie, in which director Dan Gilroy attempts to understand the co-dependent relationship between critic and creator, and between art and commerce. It features an unhinged Jake Gyllenhaal performance, which, on several occasions, will convince you that he’s channelling Nicolas Cage.
Some swear by Netflix’s unbeatable slate of romantic comedies, others commend the service for investing handsomely in niche properties that older studios wouldn’t touch with a barge pole. What unites these genres is that they are no longer - broadly speaking - available to enjoy on the big screen. The Perfection is the sort of movie that seems to have been designed for lazy home viewing; a near-perfect masterpiece of modern exploitation cinema with a subversive feminist slant.
Released on Netflix after an unconventional theatrical roll-out, The Irishman is a story about men coming to terms with their mortality — both in front of and behind the camera. A long-gestating passion project about life, loss, and misplaced priorities, it’s certainly not a film that even Martin Scorsese, in all his immortal brilliance, could have made as a young man.
Director Noah Baumbach’s new film, released on Netflix like his last, The Meyerowitz Stories,is utterly heartbreaking. Marriage Story is so authentic that watching it occasionally feels like eavesdropping on a couple in their most vulnerable moments. Alternately understated and ham-fisted, it is a love story about falling out of love.