5 Hidden Netflix Series and Movies You Should Be Watching
Last April 28, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences ruled that, for the time being, films would not need a seven-day theatrical run in a commercial theater in Los Angeles County to qualify for the Academy Awards. While this is partially a response to theater closures in light of the coronavirus, the move presents another wrinkle in the already tense battle between streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon and old guard studios like Paramount and Warner Bros.
To properly understand this battle, it must be noted that the business models of a streaming service versus a traditional film studio inherently differ and lead to different qualities of work. While traditional film studios fund and produce films in order to profit off them individually through ticket buyers and home media sales, the goal of the streaming model, which relies on subscribers, is to fund and produce films to support the service itself, as opposed to an individual product. Therefore, the traditional studio model incentivizes safe, big-budget moneymakers, usually franchise pictures (Bad Boys for Life, Birds of Prey). The streaming model, however, since they are not reliant on a single film, allows for more playful choices.
With the deluge of risky projects Netflix rescues (The Irishman, Roma), its patronage of-high level filmmaking is undeniable. However, at the end of the day, all Netflix works remain at the mercy of their “algorithm.” Given how many films and shows it’s involved with (Netflix spent $14.6 billion films and shows in 2019), Netflix does not present the user with everything available, but instead funnels users toward what they might like based on what they already do. This, paired with a priority focused marketing initiative, as well as its “dump” style of release, leads to excellent films and shows getting buried beneath a mountain of flashier content.
As such, the author would like to take this opportunity to highlight work that has been unfairly drowned in the algorithm, unable to find their audience and gain the momentum they need to exist on their own terms.
Wormwood investigates the events leading up to the accidental death (or suicide or murder) of Frank Olson, a government scientist and CIA employee involved in biological warfare programs relating to the use of psychedelics, as well as the notorious psychological warfare program MKUltra. From groundbreaking documentarian Errol Morris, one of America’s finest filmmakers, the series is an investigation of the government mechanisms that allowed inhumane programs like MKUltra to exist, as well as the coldness by which the government treats those who serve it.
Morris, who has had much experience with politics with his documentaries on Robert McNamara, Donald Rumsfeld, and more recently, Steve Bannon, cushions the political indictment by grounding the film in Frank’s son, Eric Olson, who, besides persecution, simply seeks closure. A deft blend of interview, re-enactment, and archived footage, Wormwood is typical Morris, which, in other words, means an experience like no other.
2| Huge in France
In the vein of Netflix’s own Master of None, Huge in France follows French comedian Gad, playing a fictionalized version of himself, as he makes his way to Los Angeles to reconnect with his son Luke, an aspiring model, and Luke’s mother Vivian, an aspiring influencer, who is dating Jason, an aspiring actor. It must be noted that the real-life Gad Elmaleh really isn’t just huge in France, but astronomically so, often referred to as the “Seinfeld of France.”
The show boasts an unusually strong supporting cast, notably Matthew Del Negro as bodybuilder/actor/model Jason Alan Ross, as well as strong cameo work, work of which the author would rather not spoil. While the sitcom explores the usual suspects (relationships, family, etc.), its most unique commentary is on the tenuous nature of fame and success and how it is defined differently everywhere, but nowhere more so than in America.
3| The World Is Yours
From acclaimed music video (“Bad Girls” by MIA, “Stress” by-Justice, “Gosh” by Jamie xx, “No Church in the Wild” by Kanye West and Jay Z) director Romain Gavras, The World Is Yours is a French gangster comedy, centered around Francois, a minor drug dealer who dreams of escaping his tiny Paris apartment bloc for North Africa, where he aims to distribute Mr. Freeze Ice Pops. He is pulled into a hash deal in Spain that’ll give him the funds needed to secure the franchise and help him escape his overbearing mother, Dany, played with subtlety and sentiment by two-time Academy Awards Best Actress nominee Isabelle Adjani.
While on the surface, a run of the mill “one last job” crime movie, Gavras, whose music videos lean brutal and political, brings a tenderness to the film, showing a hyperreal yet true to life version of the European immigrant experience and the role of family and community in that existence. It is also, like his music videos and Gavras, himself, incredibly, effortlessly cool and stylish.
4| The Other Side of the Wind
Perhaps Netflix’s most noble rescue project, The Other Side of The Wind is the final film of Orson Welles. A “meta” whirlwind journey through the wild “New” Hollywood of the ’60s and ’70s, the film is centered around a party where iconoclastic film director Jake Hannaford, played by John Huston, is trying to get funding to complete his film, The Other Side of the Wind.
Conceived by Welles in 1961 following the death of his longtime friend, Ernest Hemmingway, the production was marred with trouble on a legendary scale, filming on and off throughout much of the ’70s due to a lack of funds, embezzlement scandals, as well as Welles’s own personal dramas. He ended up dying in 1985, with the project in a deep legal battle with the Shah of Iran, one of its many backers. On top of all that, the footage was, according to many, incomprehensible. George Lucas, who was offered the project, was supposedly baffled by it and deemed it far too avant-garde for the commercial market. Like almost all of Welles films, The Other Side of the Wind is an incredible artifact of cinema history that fought for its right to exist and earned its right to be seen.
Atlantics is a Nigerian supernatural romance centered around Ada, a bride to be marrying for money, whose true love is Souleiman, a migrant worker who takes to the seas for a better life, i.e. heavy construction work in Europe. The feature debut of Mati Diop, star of Claire Denis’ 35 Shots of Rum, Atlantics won the 2019 Cannes Grand Prix award, losing the Palme d’Or to Parasite.
A slow-burning love story of epic emotional scope, this is perhaps the best film of this list, and the author hesitates to reveal too much about it. Netflix’s purchase of Atlantics, only for it to be dumped onto its platform with nobody knowing so, is a crime against art. Please see this film.