Vic and I watch a lot of movies and series on Netflix and now, thanks to pirating our son’s account, a few on Amazon Prime. For the last number of years we’ve been sending out a list of our favorites to friends as part of our year-end letter. Now I do it on this blog.
I see that our list this year is shorter than usual. That may be because we watched less and read more; we wasted a lot of time on series that were ultimately unsatisfying (more about that later); or because Netflix keeps making it harder to track our personal viewing and ratings, so I might be missing some things here. Nevertheless, some patterns emerge. We mostly enjoyed biopics and reality-based movies. This year we majored in race and minored in World War II and horses. And we binge-watched some really good series.
(This is not an endorsement of Netflix or Prime. Rather, it reflects the fact that we are not even trying to keep up with all the proliferating platforms.)
Here are our favorite Netflix DVDs, in no particular order except sort of the way we watched them. They were mostly released in 2016–18.
Black KkKlansman. In the early 1970s, an African-American detective in the Colorado Springs Police Department infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan. This true-life examination of race relations in 1970s America is, unfortunately, not out of date.
I Am Not Your Negro. A masterful amalgam of James Baldwin’s words and vision for an unfinished book about the lives and assassinations of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr, turned into a visual meditation on race in America.
Sorry to Bother You. An African-American telemarketer rises to the top of his company by using a white voice. Vic loved this; I thought the stuff at the end took it just beyond absurd to … huh?
The Rider. An extraordinary documentary following an injured rodeo rider as he searches for an identity outside of riding. Hard to believe that this is the guy himself and not an actor.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor. There hadn’t been anything like Mr. Rogers on television before and there hasn’t been since.
RBG. An engaging documentary about Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s career in gender-discrimination law and her journey to the Supreme Court and pop-culture stardom. Long may she live!
Lean on Pete. A neglected teen finds a part-time job with a slightly shady horse trainer and develops a bond with a worn-out racehorse whom he resolves to save from the slaughterhouse.
Goodbye Christopher Robin. This focuses on author A.A. Milne and how the books affected his son (and inspiration), Christopher Robin. Not to be confused with Disney’s Christopher Robin (streaming), which is not as good but not bad. The two movies show some father and son parallels, including effects of WW I (father) and WW II (son).
Battle of the Sexes. We remember the much-hyped 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and braggart Bobby Riggs so it was pure pleasure to watch this re-enactment by Emma Stone and Steve Carrell.
Beatriz at Dinner. A dark comedy featuring the inimitable Salma Hayek as a blunt-spoken holistic health practitioner who insinuates herself into a billionaire couple’s important dinner party.
The Post. Who can resist watching Meryll Streep do Kathryn Graham?
Loving Vincent. “Animated biopic” is hardly an adequate description for a film in which each frame is an oil painting executed in Van Gogh’s style.
Darkest Hour; Dunkirk. The first focuses on Winston Churchill’s battle for power and his refusal to surrender Britain to Adolf Hitler. Dunkirk was the result.
Hacksaw Ridge. Another WW II true story—a conscientious objector serving as a medic leads a heroic rescue in Okinawa.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. I’m having trouble remembering the details of this movie except that Frances McDormand was mesmerizing.
The Zookeeper’s Wife. After the Nazis invade Poland, Warsaw Zoo caretakers place themselves in danger when they begin collaborating with the Resistance in an effort to save Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto. True story.
Jackie. Jacqueline Kennedy, a woman who was always stronger than she looked, in the first days after the assassination. Natalie Portman does her justice.
Loving. A landmark Supreme Court civil rights case, the 1958 arrest and imprisonment of a couple for violating Virginia’s law against interracial marriage.
Hidden Figures. In the Cold War space race, black female mathematicians played a key role in launching astronaut John Glenn into outer space. Who knew.
A few Netflix streaming movies we enjoyed:
Springsteen on Broadway. The Boss tells his life story and sings some.
Amy. The tortured and talented Amy Winehouse
Tulip Fever. Lush period drama set in Holland when the tulip exchange was like the stock market.
Icarus. Documentary about how pervasive doping in the sport of cycling was exposed.
Three Generations. A mother tries to cope with her child’s gender transition.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Island residents outwit Nazis.
Mostly, we watched series on Netflix streaming. Our favorites:
Sense8. SciFi, lushly filmed in eight different settings around the world. Watch it for the scenery. Eventually you will figure out the plot and then you may want to watch it again.
The Crown. I developed a certain amount of appreciation and affection for Queen Elizabeth in watching this. May her new American granddaughter-in-law warm her up even more.
The World’s Most Extraordinary Homes. This is our second-favorite world travel series, since the untimely death of Anthony Bourdain, who can still be followed to Parts Unknown. Only eight episodes. More, please!
Bodyguard. The title character of this also-too-short BBC series is messed up and totally sympathetic.
And one on Amazon Prime: The Americans, perhaps my favorite of all. It runs six whole seasons and the last season is best. Russians and Americans are equally sympathetic and villainous and the writing, character development, and acting are fabulous. Lots of violence, however.
Series that we started watching and lost interest in, or watched all the way through because we wanted to see what happened but found ultimately unsatisfying: Grace and Frankie, Ozark, Dear White People, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, Alias Grace, and Amazon’s Barry.
Thumbs up or thumbs down? What are your recent favorites?