Whether you’re tired of binging series, already got through the biggest names on your watchlist, or are just looking for a way to mix up your film repertoire, here are 10 recent hidden gems on Netflix, from home and abroad, to check out during the winter holidays.
Director: Jon Favreau
This is the most delicious movie I have ever seen. Do not watch on an empty stomach, as you will be pining for a Cubano. The film follows upscale chef Carl (Favreau himself) after he quits his job, deciding to redefine his relationship with both food and his family by launching a food truck. He travels the country, engaging with the regional cuisines and gradually building his menu. This movie is pure of heart and intention, and full of cooking montages. What could be better than that? Also stars Sofia Vergara, John Leguizamo, and Bobby Cannavale. And Dustin Hoffman and Scarlett Johannson, to drop a few more names.
Blue Jay (2016)
Director: Alexandre Lehmann
Given the recent surge of Sarah Paulsen adoration in popular culture, it would not shock me if the internet had at least heard about this movie in passing. Still, it doesn’t exactly have a plot that screams “cult classic,” and simplistic romances can often come across as skippable in the day and age where we want all the entertainment that we can get out of a 90 minute endeavor. But there’s something special about Blue Jay. Maybe it’s the melodious, dreamy score. Maybe it’s the beautiful black and white cinematography. Maybe it’s the charm of Sarah Paulson and Mark Duplass, two seasoned actors who have sensational chemistry. It might not change your life, but it sure as hell will sadden you, or perhaps comfort you, depending on your own romantic history. Either way, this one is worth the watch.
Director: Vikas Bahl
If you did a supercut of this movie, it would have the same essence as a music video. Sweet, colorful, and full of life, this Indian film goes to the moon and back to celebrate the gradual growth of its protagonist, Rani (Kangana Ranaut), a woman devastated by the calling off of her wedding. Rather than stew in her discontent, she decides to go on her already-arranged Honeymoon to Europe alone. And yes, she meets a whole bunch of friends along the way. Watching Rani grow more comfortable in her skin without compromising her core values is a total pleasure. Seeing these international friendships form is a lovely reminder of the capacity of lonely wanderers in creating a family away from home. I can’t wait to travel again.
The New Romantic (2018)
Director: Carly Stone
I was pleased to have my thoughts provoked by this film. Astute, in the sense of how it scrutinizes hook-up culture, and relatable, as Jessy Barden as Blake feels like an actual person I might know and really enjoy the company of. Bluntly described as “a sex columnist that doesn’t have sex” by her editor, Blake is a helplessly romantic college newspaper writer who is struggling to find a worthwhile love to invest her time in. Randomly intertwined with the confident Morgan, Blake discovers a new angle for her column: being a sugar baby to an older man. Blake weighs the pros and cons of this strange new lifestyle as she agrees to a financial arrangement with a wealthy author. It’s an interesting look at romance as a product of cultural standards, even if it deflates a little towards the end. Lots of narration, Nora Ephron movie references, and indie music. If this sounds like your thing, my money is on you loving it. Also stars Hayley Law, Brett Dier, Camila Mendes, and Avan Jogia.
Dear Ex (2018)
Directors: Mag Hsu & Chih-yen Hsu
A mother and her son reel from the death of her husband, who they find out had altered his insurance policy to include a theater director named Jay. This modest Taiwanese film is warm to the touch. Its power comes in its quiet moments, separate from whatever punch the antagonist (in this case, the incredulous mother, Liu) wishes to throw to gain control. It’s a story about grief, but also the redefining of relationships in the aftermath of great sorrow. Watching the bond between young Song and Jay blossom makes for some very touching moments- we feel closer to the deceased thanks to the man who appeared to know him best. Soft colors, tender dialogue, and a theatrical finale radiating with ardor, this is a movie that will no doubt become special to a select few that identify with its mission.
The Breadwinner (2017)
Director: Nora Twomey
Prefer an animated feature? We’ve got those too. This Oscar nominated movie about a young girl in Afghanistan under Taliban rule has rich characters, a dazzling animation style, and provides legitimate insight to Afghani culture that is both digestible for children and educational for adults. Most importantly, it has a wildly captivating story with uniquely high stakes, making for an overwhelming emotional investment that extends past the film’s runtime. This comes from Irish company Cartoon Saloon, most well known for 2014’s Song of the Sea, which has no shortage of visual flair. I implore you to show some support for smaller animation companies, as they need all the fans they can get to not get pushed out of the game.
Director: Paul Dano
This isn’t the most optimistic movie on this list, to be up front, but it does have several FILME moments in it, if you catch my drift. Co-written by husband and wife dynamic duo Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan, the story follows Jean and Jerry, (Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal) a couple who relocate their son to Montana in the 1960s. The father, Jerry, soon joins the team of forest firefighters, meaning a lot of days away from home. As his absence solidifies, Jean starts to fall further away from reality. If you watch this movie for anything it should be A) the performances- seriously, when has Jake Gyllenhaal been anything less than stellar, and B) the landscape. Diego Garcia captures the dull blues and browns of the mountains in no small way, essentially incorporating the setting as its own character. The screenplay is a little hit or miss, but if you’re in the right frame of mind, the story may carry more weight than you anticipated.
Directors: Rashida Jones & Alan Hicks
Truly one of the most engaging documentaries I’ve seen of late, this intimate look at the legendary musician and producer Quincy Jones is full of fascinating tidbits and a very clean career timeline. Rashida Jones being behind the camera certainly helped accentuate the more sensitive, familial-oriented aspects of his life, while the numerous superstar cameos give an indication of just how great of an influence he had on the music industry as we know it. Music fans will be giddy, I have no doubt. Culminating in a performance to celebrate the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, with the likes of the Obamas and Oprah present, this is an authentic and compelling tribute to a massive force of a man.
Bad Genius (2017)
Director: Nattawut Poonpiriya
Chances are you don't care for standardized tests. But what about a movie about a cheating ring for standardized tests? This fast-moving Thai flick turns cheating into a spectator sport, as brilliant teen Lynn finds a way to fund her college endeavor through helping her classmates pass their exams. You’ll find your heart beating fast as the scheme is solidified and expanded as Lynn’s morals are challenged and nearly brought to extinction. The thrill is not only in the scandal, but the agony of awaiting the outcomes, the tested ties between peers, and the strange urge you feel to cheer them on in order to avoid secondhand embarrassment from failure. It is exhilarating all the way to the finish line, and fully worth two hours of your time.
LA 92 (2017)
Directors: T.J. Martin & Daniel Lindsay
Do you want your thought provoked? Are you looking for something devoid of politics? LA 92, following the aftermath of the Rodney King trial in Los Angeles, is composed entirely of archival footage and newsreels, with zero talking heads. All you’re left with is an ambitious score by Saunder Jurriaans & David Bensi (known for Enemy, The Devil All the Time, and a couple other thrillers) and some very, very, very good editing. This opened my eyes to violence in my country in a way I’d never really seen up close. It is mind-boggling to believe that this was less than thirty years ago- but then again, is it really? The film delves into no apparent bias, giving you solely chronology and essential facts. It is the responsibility of the viewer to come to their own conclusions about the “good guys.” But, much like the smoke left behind after the fires, it is a grey, grey area. And it is better to be simply harrowed by the harsh reality.
How to Get Over a Breakup (2018)
Directors: Joanna Lombardi & Bruno Ascenzo
Lastly, one tried and true rom-com, for good measure. This Peruvian film plays on a lot of tropes, but it is still one of the most truly girl-powered movies I can recollect seeing in a long while. Gisela Ponce de Leon turns in a very fun performance with a whole lot of spunk. Her colorful apartment comes in second place in that “spunk” category, as I struggle to recall a time in which the interior design had such a heavy hand in conveying tone as in this film. For people who religiously watch romantic comedies, I needn’t say much more than that it’s often relatable and comes in at a cool 100 minutes. Check it out.
Stay tuned for a tentative top 10 of 2020, a Don Hertzfeldt spotlight, and anything else people might request. Happy holidays!