Rather than doing individual reviews, I thought I’d give you small reviews of films I’ve watched since the turn of the year, and give my views on the streaming platforms. The films will be a mix of some that you might have thought were worth a look, or some that you thought “that looks shit, I’ll save that for when I need cheering up”.
Netflix was here first in the streaming wars, and earlier this year became more valuable than Shell, the oil company (this is how ridiculous the times we live in are). While the company has spent itself into incredible debt making original content, that content is now a massive element of its attraction as it entertains a captive worldwide audience.
With this original content (it appears to have enough in stock to last it for a good while to come, too), the service doesn’t need to rely on other companies’ content as much anymore. That’s not to say that there’s no external content – far from it! There is a massive library of films from other companies, but as with Amazon this seems to shift almost weekly – so something you wanted to see has gone, or moved to the other platform, which is quite frankly shit if you’ve been wanting to see it and it disappears.
Netflix’s TV shows are many and numerous, and they also have a lot of the classics. As with any range of shows your desire to watch is what will lead you to them, but among the classics include Breaking Bad – which if you’ve not seen it you MUST now you have no excuse.
It’s usually around £8 a month unless you want 4K. The interface is both well done and infuriating – you can get dizzy flicking through the lists, and there’s no way to truly plumb the depths of its extensive library so it relies on its algorithms to “recommend” you absolute shit you wouldn’t watch. The contrast and colours are cool though, and it’s fairly easy to navigate.
Please note: it has an incredibly infuriating autoplay function that starts playing trailers if you leave the icon on anything for more than a second – though this is now able to be disabled, much to the joy of seasoned Netflix users.
Some of the films I’ve seen in 2020 on there include:
- King Arthur: Legend of the Sword: if you’d ever wondered what Guy Ritchie adapting Arthurian legends would look like, here’s your chance. Pretty much what you’d expect (lots of cockneys, lots of very plasticky CGI action and swirly cameras), but to give it its due the Arthurian legends are stupid anyway – so why not have a Guy Ritchie rough ‘n’ ready approach? FYI: Charlie Hunnam once more struggles to convince that he is, indeed, British by once again mangling a cockney accent
- Phantom Thread: a slow burning character piece, this features Daniel Day-Lewis’ final role as a pathetically controlling diva manchild (with the hilarious name Reynolds Woodcock) slowly tamed by a younger woman who doesn’t take the shit he doles out. Set in the world of UK high fashion in the early 20th century, it’s not for everyone (it’s a character piece), but features a great final performance from Day-Lewis and a frank, fresh first major film appearance from Vicky Kreps
- Apollo 11: this is one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen, using newly discovered archive footage of the Moon landing and painstakingly restoring it to 4K. You of course know what’s going to happen the whole time, but my god this is how a documentary can really change your perceptions of a time or event. An exceptional piece of filmmaking
- Pacific Rim: Uprising: absolutely nonsensical rubbish compared to the far better original, this at least has John Boyega and Scott Eastwood (son of Clint) barging around and taking it hilariously seriously amid the neon nonsense. Most of it feels like they got some kids in to decide the plot and the action – never a good sign
- The Laundromat: Steven Soderberg attempts The Big Short but looking at the offshore tax scandal called the Panama Papers. A heavyweight cast led by Meryl Streep and the narrator/antagonist duo of Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas explain, amuse and horrify in explaining (or trying to explain) a very malevolent real world practice. It’s not a patch on The Big Short, but it’s worth seeing if you liked that or want to come away from a film feeling that you’ve learned something
- From Beyond: a gruesome, bizarre horror adaptation of an HP Lovecraft cosmic horror, From Beyond is pure 80s schlock filled with bizarre sci fi horror tropes and some truly mindbending (if dated) visuals and meaty gore. If you know the Lovecraft books then this might be for you – otherwise, unless you enjoy watching gore filled 80s horror films then stay away!
- Good Time and Uncut Gems: you may have heard Adam Sandler, of all people, was rumoured to be nominated for an Oscar this year. Uncut Gems is why – and along with Good Time (starring Robert Pattinson in another Twilight-killing excellent performance) was made by the NYC based Safdie brothers. These films are panic inducing, brain irritating slices of inner city dweller life on the margins or limits – Good Time focusing on the fallout from a man’s criminal activities and his attempts to escape capture, and Uncut Gems on a blagger’s nest of debts and promises collapsing and dragging him into dangerous situations. I enjoyed both but your mileage may vary, especially on the panic incuding, shouty Gems
- Trollhunter: this is a madcap but fun found footage film based in Norway that surmises trolls do in fact exist in the country’s sparsely populated wilds. A crew of idiot students tag along with a droll hunter (heh), and effectively spliced CGI does a great job of covering the cracks. A bit of fun and a found footage movie that isn’t a gimmick, providing laughs and scares
- The Irishman: the gangster film to end all gangster films, reuniting Scorsese, De Niro and Pesci and adding Al Pacino. Incredibly creative, cutting edge technology sees the greats play characters at various ages in this long, engrossing study of real life gangsters and their intersection with US history. Perhaps best approached with a clear head/empty bladder and staggered over multiple viewings, this is peak Scorsese gangster cinema
- El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie: wasted on you if you’ve not seen the show (and why haven’t you?!), El Camino is a perfect coda to one of the best TV series I’ve seen. Aaron Paul returns as Jesse to fill in some gaps from the show, and the slow burn but increasing tension is perfectly balanced against how the series felt. Having watched some of Better Call Saul but not got into it enough, this was a nice reminder of how great Breaking Bad was and continues to be
- In the Tall Grass: a twisted adaptation of a Stephen King and Joe Hill short story (the latter being the former’s son and also a horror novelist), this is a quite nasty horror centred around a simple premise – a pregnant woman and her brother stop at the side of a road near a tall grass field, hear a boy calling for help, go in and can’t get out. From there on it’s unafraid to go to depths other horrors don’t often touch – highly recommended for horror fans, less so for those paranoid about getting lost in tall grass
- The Midnight Sky: a pretty good adaptation of a book I read last year, this sees George Clooney star and direct a sadly prescient and quite glum film about a terminally ill research scientist sticking around on Antarctica as the rest of the world collapses due to an unexplained crisis. He tries his best to contact a returning spaceship before they come back to a ruined world. It’s quite glum but well shot, and well acted by a very different Clooney, with able support from Felicity Jones and David Oleyewo
- Galaxy Quest: I’d somehow never seen this cult movie parody, but it was way ahead of its time lampooning Star Trek and insane fandom, with Alan Rickman and Sigourney Weaver turning in excellent, self aware performances as actors fed up of being known for one old sci fi show and suddenly finding themselves in a real space war. Tim Allen is also far less annoying as a Shatner-esque moron of a captain/celebrity/
- Rebecca: a real departure from director Ben Wheatley’s normal fare, this Daphne Du Maurier adaptation is all gothic drama and gaslighting with a sumptuous look and some heavyweight acting from Lily James, Armie Hammer and an ice cold Kristin Scott Thomas. Wheatley dispenses with the gore and violence to make a quite remarkably glamorous drama – I didn’t know the infamous twists and turns, so particularly enjoyed the clever plot
- The Trial of the Chicago 7: originally planned to be a Spielberg adaptation, famous scriptwriter Aaron Sorkin takes over in adapting a famous yet unknown court case for the screen, supported by a rogue’s gallery of character actors and leading men. Sorkin’s gunfire dialogue (see The Social Network or The West Wing) finds its rightful place here in the tale of men prosecuted for protesting against an overly right wing government and police force (wonder what the parallels with today could be), with Sacha Baron Cohen (!), Succession’s Mark Strong and Brits Eddie Redmayne and Mark Rylance memorably drawing your attention to what otherwise could have been a dreary courtroom drama
- Enter the Dragon: the original Bruce Lee martial arts film, I found this to be quite stilted and unnecessarily dubbed, but it has enough about it (if you can ignore the unnecessary vocalisations during the fights) to stick in the mind. You can also see the many legacies both Lee and this film left for martial arts action films down the decades
- Session 9: this is a surprisingly twisted and devilish horror movie, delving into psychological horror in a big way and utilising a real (!) asylum to hammer home the grim themes at its heart. A disturbing central performance from Peter Mullan anchors this film, which benefits hugely from being able to film in a real life deserted (and crumbling) mental hospital for that added atmosphere
- Selma: fittingly for a year in which civil, humane people who care about others were shocked by the murder of George Floyd, watching Selma – the story of Martin Luther King’s march through the town in the midst of the civil rights movement – was a reminder of how long African Americans and black people across the western world have been fighting against racist dickheads. David Oleyowo is spectacular as MLK, with director Ava DuVernay robbed of Oscar nominations for this searing, inspiring movie
- The Devil All the Time: a true Southern Gothic drama, this movie meanders and takes its sweet time, but features some brilliant and grim performances from the likes of Tom Holland, Robert Pattinson, Bill Skarsgard and many more. It’s the story of how one child’s life (and the life of those around him, whether they be family, friends or acquaintances) is shaped by his parents and the harsh realities of life in an overly religious, poor area
- The Social Dilemma: this documentary did not get me to delete any social media accounts, but by god did it make me realise how grim our world is becoming as a result of the big platforms. Featuring the unique spin of a fictional throughline among real life talking heads, it’s well worth a watch and will make you think twice about your 500th Insta scroll of the day
- She’s Gotta Have It and Da 5 Bloods: 2020 allowed me to fill in some Spike Lee gaps in my filmwatching experience, with his first and most recent joints (as he would put it). The former is an almost arthouse drama about promiscuity and relationships (as well as misogyny and abuse) in 1980s NYC, with a series of searing central performances (including Lee’s) announcing him as one hell of an African American voice in cinema. The latter shows he’s not changed in all this time, with a slightly more unrealistic spin as four old Vietnam vets return to the country to find both the body of their dead comrade (the late Chadwick Boseman’s penultimate role) and the gold bars they buried with him. Fiercely political and strongly acted (particularly the astonishing Delroy Lindo), this is a Vietnam movie with a modern twist
- 1922: another Stephen King adaptation, this grim story stars Thomas Jane as a farmer whose fateful decision regarding a family member quite literally comes back to haunt him and drive him mad. Jane’s grunting, southern as southern can get performance really makes this adaptation work, and it’s a fitfully nasty King story that doesn’t (for once) rely on the supernatural
- Extraction: Chris Hemsworth comes to Netflix with a bang in this concussive action blast, interestingly set in Bangladesh and entertaining enough despite its many tropes (one last job for a grizzled, damaged special forces bloke who’s got skeletons in his closet, etc). The Aussie man mountain is fully involved in the action, with some Raid and John Wick style stunts and fights meaning this rarely slows or bores
- Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga: the feelgood, bizarre comedy hit of the year – who’d have thought Will Ferrell making a Eurovision film would end up being so heartfelt and such a love letter to the contest? Yes it’s silly and Ferrell is Ferrell (I know plenty of people who can’t stand him as much as I enjoy him), but the spectacular songs and some brilliant comedy performances from Dan Stevens, Pierce Brosnan and Rachel McAdams help make this a really amusing delight for any European who’s seen/suffered through the best and the worst Eurovision has to offer
- Monos: I had heard that Mark Kermode rated this film incredibly highly, and I found it to be really quite an astonishing spectacle. Shot in the jungles of South America, Monos focuses on a group of teen soldiers holding an American woman hostage, and the inevitable strains that occur among a number of angsty youths with guns. The film utilises the jungle’s myriad and suffocating environs to impose an oppressive sense of place, while the perfectly believable cast sell the slow degradation of their unit
- Hellboy: gorier doesn’t always mean better. Neil Marshall’s reboot of Hellboy sees Stranger Things’ David Harbour take over from Ron Perlman, and this made me pine for the Guillermo del Toro originals (even with Harbour’s more than capable performance and the ever excellent Ian McShane) because it replaces interesting characters and storylines with brutal gore and over the top performances
- Leave No Trace: another Kermode recommendation, this excellent film is reminiscent of Monos in its use of the wild, but here settles for a more low key story about a former Marine living in the forests of the Pacific Northwest with his daughter, and the issues that entail between them and for each once the authorities discover they are doing so. Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie give engrossing and excellent lead performances, while Debra Granik’s considered direction anchors the involving tale
- Maniac: or Frodo no more – this remake of a 1980s slasher horror sees Elijah Wood play a particularly foul serial killer with a Silence of the Lambs style taste for skinning his victims. A very gory movie, this is worth a watch for those with a stronger stomach for its clever use of point of view – we see everything (EVERYTHING) through Wood’s eyes, and this unique filmic choice makes this stand out (and makes us feel more complicit in the horrors that occur)
- The Old Guard: Charlize Theron headlines this immortal superteam actioner, with the team of four ancient warriors encountering a new immortal in the 21st century. It’s skin deep but Theron’s commanding lead performance and action chops drag it along, while Harry Melling (aka Dudley Dursley) is a particularly slimy Zuckerberg-esque villain
- Upgrade: from Leigh Whanell, the director of The Invisible Man, this excellently gruesome and Cronenburg-esque action horror sees the poor man’s Tom Hardy Logan Marshall Green play a recently widowed and paralysed man given the chance to get revenge via an implant that gives him full movement and superheroic reflexes, with all the side effects of such abilities you can imagine. Marshall Green’s excellent physical performance and the high concept plot really make this film sing
- American Psycho: the adaptation of one of the only books I genuinely struggled to read – it’s that gruesome and sociopathic – this is an excellent film, nailing the book’s satire while also foregrounding its shocking violence. Christian Bale’s excellently unhinged performance makes his Batman that much more hilarious in retrospect, and Mary Harron absolutely nails (no pun intended) the seesawing tone of this bizarre story
- Project Power: Netflix’s attempt at muscling in on the superhero genre, this is OK fare based on a great concept that’s never really taken proper advantage of. Jamie Foxx and Joseph Gordon Levitt are alright as two men coming from very different directions at the problem of pills that give you unique superpowers for a limited time, but the film feels like it belongs on streaming
- Venom: I never saw this quite frankly unhinged film when it was out in cinemas, and to be honest I’m glad I didn’t! Tom Hardy does his absolute best to upset the blockbuster/superhero applecart by being just plain weird as journo Eddie Brock and his alien alter ego Venom, while Riz Ahmed of all people plays another Zuckerberg style villain – this is like a blockbuster that is secretly a B-movie cult hit in disguise, and that they’ve made a sequel is frankly nuts to me
- Gerald’s Game: the last Stephen King adaptation on this list, this is a self contained and nasty little gem of a film, validating the master of horror’s genius juggling of mundane situations with absolute and abject horror. Carla Gugino’s powerhouse central performance asks the question: if you were handcuffed in an intimate way and the other person died, leaving you trapped, what would happen? Some truly disturbing things occur and Gugino, Bruce Greenwood and director Mike Flanagan show how even a simple King adaptation can soar
- Long Shot: an OK romantic comedy, this sees Seth Rogen somehow manage to be in the same league as Charlize Theron, but the film does commit to being more like the Judd Apatow style rom-coms with raunch of the 2000s
- The First Purge: I had seen the other Purge films prior to this year, and so thought I’d give the prequel film a spin – but this appears to be a film too far to be honest. The great concept of the first film is now being spread way too thin, and I honestly can’t tell you anything that I remember from watching it
Here are some other posts on the other platforms: