The Netflix entertainment company has been around since 1997, but only gained mainstream popularity with their expansion into streaming media and video on-demand in the mid 2000s. Nowadays, Netflix is a powerhouse, providing original productions, films, TV series and documentaries to clients in over 190 countries. With asset flirting with the $14 billion dollar mark, Netflix has proved themselves as one of the biggest media giants in the world.
As much as we love a good old "Netflix and chill" session, it must be noted that it is not always easy to navigate the Netflix library. Too many choices (and some really, really bad offerings) leave viewers discouraged and feeling like they've wasted a lot of time scrolling. Let's face it, the viewers' star rating system is definitely flawed, so we can't really rely on the scores listed on the site. What we need is a user guide. I'm here to offer you my hand-selected picks to kick off 2018 on a good note. I have personally watched all of these movies and TV series' (being a stay-at-home mom has some major benefits!) so I promise they aren't rotten tomatoes. Instead of wasting hours scrolling through mindlessly, take a peek at my list and give some of these often-ignored titles a chance. Here are my personal 15 Unlikely Netflix Gems You Shouldn't Overlook
15 Super Dark Times
Hubs and I selected this for a post-holiday, curl-up movie, and we were pleasantly surprised at how engaging it was. An unfortunate accident forces a group of young teen boys to deal with extremely emotional, psychological, and physical side effects. The totally believable plot is supported by great acting, laugh-out-loud dialogue and even some tween romance. Set in rural New York in the '90s, the film is reminiscent of what it was like to be a kid growing up before the age of the Internet. This is director Kevin Phillips' first feature film, and he definitely succeeded in providing a non-Hollywood, indie flic that keeps the viewers attention for the entire duration of the film. If you liked Stand By Me, this is a somewhat more modern version of the coming-of-age classic. Perfect for those who aren't afraid of a little (or a lot) of dark themes.
I didn't expect to like Godless, a western mini-series offered as a Netflix original, but it was actually really, really good. For anyone who likes Jeff Daniels as much as I do, this is a must watch. The story follows outlaw Frank Griffin (Daniels) as he hunts down Roy Goode, his one time right-hand man turned enemy. The ruthless cowboy stops at nothing to track down his prey; leaving a trail of bullets, bodies and fire in his pursuit. Roy (Jack O'Connell), however, has found refuge in a small New Mexico town, where a mysterious widow takes him in. The 8-episode offering offers beautiful scenery, simple yet poignant dialogue and a dramatic journey into the wild, wild west. A secondary plot revolving around the women who run the town of La Belle is a refreshing testament to the power of women united.
13 Doctor Foster
I watched season 1 of Doctor Foster sometime last year, and kind of forgot about it, until recently, when I found that season 2 had been released. In no time, I got right back into this incredible thriller. It follows the life and times of Doctor Foster, a well-respected, over-achieving doctor who discovers that her husband is having an affair. The relationship between the pair doesn't end when they separate; season 2 brings us on a wild ride of revenge, lust, passion and hatred, as the two struggle to come to terms with the fact that they can't live together, or apart. The dramatic British series takes us on a journey past reasonable limits, and shows the absolutely horrific consequences of obsessive love. If you like thrillers and excitement, this show will not disappoint.
12 The Sinner
The Sinner was recently added to Netflix, and it's definitely a series you don't want to miss. Jessica Biel stars in this mysterious drama/thriller which will leave you scratching your head until the final scenes. Jessica Biel plays Cora Tannetti, a young mother and wife who suddenly suffers from inexplicable violent episodes. Getting into legal hot water, a patient and curious lawyer (Bill Pullman), befriends Cora and pledges to help her. A side plot involving Cora's terminally ill younger sister blends into the storyline and provides dark truths that one wouldn't expect. Overall, this was a total binge-worthy series that will get you in the mood to solve a mystery. Jessica Biel's performance is one of the best of her career, showing a range of emotions we didn't think she was capable of.
I really didn't expect to like Riverdale, so for months I just ignored it's presence when I was scrolling through the new releases on Neflix. Nothing against Archie and the gang, I grew up in the '90s and loved nothing more than a Betty and Veronica cartoon to read on a Sunday afternoon. I guess I didn't realize that the producers were going to give Archie and the Riverdale kids a very modern upgrade. While incorporating some of the original themes (milkshakes, varsity jackets) the show offers some darkly entertaining themes of murder, mystery, lies and lust. The dialogue is a bit on the cheesy side, and everyone is ridiculously and unbelievably good-looking, but that adds to the charm of this show. Season 1 is actually really fun, season 2 is a bit less so, but it's still worth a curl-up on the couch and binge session.
10 The Confession Tapes
For anyone who is a lover of true crime, this special is not to be missed. Season 1 offers 7 episodes, each dealing with a case of criminal false confessions. The show reinforces how truly vulnerable certain categories of people are (youth, mentally ill, etc.), and how police and detective techniques are often construed to get a confession, no matter what the cost. The tragic cases remind us that freedom is not without a price, and the criminal justice system is, in many ways, flawed. This special will definitely open your eyes to the realities that many inmates are serving time for crimes that they did not commit. Well presented and interesting cases, too. This didn't disappoint.
9 I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore
This Netflix original film is definitely unique. The film follows Ruth, a nurse who, already having a bad day, comes home to discover that she has been robbed. When the police don't seem all that concerned about looking for her stolen laptop, she goes door to door to ask neighbours if they have seen anything suspicious in the neighbourhood. Enter Elijah Wood, who plays heavy-metal aficionado Tony. He and Ruth develop a friendship and go on the hunt for the burglars. The movie unfolds as a mystery/thriller/comedy, with some scenes evoking laughter, and some, shock. It's really not your typical formula, but that is it's appeal. It's been given mostly favorable reviews since it's release on Netflix in January, 2017. Worth a watch if you want something that doesn't have to be taken too seriously.
8 Marc Maron: Too Real
I am a huge Marc Maron fan. I've watched almost everything he's done (RIP Maron, you were the best show ever) and listen to his podcast on the regular. His style of humour is just so raw and refreshing, I feel myself nodding in agreement with almost all of the quirky jokes he tells. So, perhaps I'm biased in reviewing his newest Netflix stand-up special, but c'est la vie! You should watch it. Marc is just a regular 50-something comedian with very in-your-face views on the world we live in. He doesn't sugar coat anything, and isn't too concerned with offending audiences, which is really nice. The newest special deal with topics like aging, his relationship with his parents and the Rolling Stones. If you want to spend a hour getting lost in giggles, this is how to do it. Guaranteed feel good experience with one of the best comedians of our time.
7 Goon: Last Of The Enforcers
Goon: Last of The Enforcers is the follow-up to 2011's classic hockey comedy, Goon. As Jay Baruchel's directorial first, it's a pretty good sequel, which doesn't quite reach the standards of the first. Despite this, it is quite a lot of fun. The film continues the story of hockey player Doug "The Thug" Glatt (Seann William Scott) as his career progresses with the Halifax Highlanders. Glatt is forced to juggle between hockey star and family man, as his wife, Eva (Alison Pill) welcomes the couple's new baby girl into the world. A great performance by former real-life professional hockey player Wyatt Russell adds excitement and dramatics to the team. For anyone who likes hockey, and can handle some cheesy Canadian-esque jokes, this is worth a watch.
Here's another movie that I had scrolled by dozens and dozens of times before finally giving in. In what seems to be Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler's hundredth romantic comedy together, the pair unite on an unexpected trip to Africa and bond while their children blend into a huge, happy family. While the romantic comedy formula present here is nothing new, these two actors have on-screen chemistry that is undeniable, and it makes for a fun movie. Some of the scenes at their lavish African resort are laugh-out-loud funny and the scenery is pretty awesome too. No shocking twists or turns, but who needs them when you're watching a rom-com? This is something to watch when you want a silly pick-me-up, and possibly want to start thinking of vacationing in Africa.
5 Afternoon Delight
Afternoon Delight was met with only mediocre critic reviews, but I found it to be a pretty cool film. Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) and her hubby Jeff (Josh Radnor) visit a strip club with friends one night; they are trying to spice up their marriage, which has been bogged down with daily parenting obligations and unfulfilling household tasks. Rachel meets teen dancer McKenna (Juno Temple). A few days later, Rachel spots McKenna on the street, and she falls into a strange big-sister/mentor role with the troubled youth. The plot unfolds when Rachel brings McKenna home to stay with her family. A really interesting story that combines relatable characters and themes. If you like dramas that focus on the struggles that affect regular people, this is for you.
4 Love Me! (Liebe Mich!)
This list couldn't possibly be complete without at least one or two international films. I must admit, I am a big fan of foreign films, and would pick something French or German over a Hollywood movie, any day. Love Me! (Liebe Mich!) is a German-produced, coming-of-age film that deals with the complexities of being a young woman. Sarah comes across as a brash, confident and loud teen who refuses to stay in line. Deep down, she is a lonely, insecure and needy little girl who craves the attention of men to validate her existence. It is a classic case of "girl with daddy issues" that goes off the rails, and it's really, really good! As the film unfolds, you get to understand the deeper causes of her pain; not to be missed if you appreciate teen dramas that are on the deeper side.
3 The One I Love
The One I Love is such a unique movie, that you can't help but get sucked into the plot within minutes. Featuring Mad Men's Elizabeth Moss, this film crosses over from a romantic drama to a fantastical thriller in no time. Without giving away too much, this film follows a struggling couple's journey to a beautiful retreat where they have been sent by a marriage therapist. The goal is to renew their passion and love for each other, while reconnecting and finding new ways to communicate. Elizabeth Moss and Mark Duplass both give fantastic performances in this film concocted by Florida based writer Justin Lader. If you like the idea of escaping into a fantasy world for awhile, this could be a good choice for you! Watch with an open mind and prepare to be mystified.
2 City Of God
City of God gets my stamp of approval as one of the best international films on Netflix today. Although it's not a new film (circa 2002), most people don't even check the foreign film category, thus ignoring some pretty incredible film options. The movie follows two brother growing up in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Similar upbringings lead to very different paths; one brother becomes a successful photographer, while the other one becomes a drug dealer. The film beautifully captures a very hard reality; life in the slums of Rio can be unforgiving, especially to the young. Perhaps the best accomplishment of this film is the director's ability to paint colourful and unique characters, who we feel compelled to root for, even in the face of impossible circumstances.
1 Y Tu Mamá Tambien
Y Tu Mamá Tambien was one of the very first international films I ever watched, and one that would ignite a love of Latin cinema that has not since diminished. The Mexican film follows the very entertaining road trip involving two teen best friends and an older woman. During the trip, the triad are faced with metaphoric and real challenges in their personal lives, loves lives and friendships. The dramatic incidents unfold in a classic coming-of-age tale, with a fiery, fiesta-full Latin flare. This is by far one of the best Mexican comedic dramas out there, and a good starting place for anyone who wants to dabble in foreign films. Gael Garcia Bernal is incredible in this film, which helped him get his big acting break back in 20o1.