Ring in the New Year with these critically acclaimed recommendations.
With the New Year rapidly approaching, ‘tis the season to look back on all we’ve been Netflix and chillin’ to. Considering 2019 marked the most significant year to date in the streaming era, what better way to recap than by compiling a list of the best content Netflix released this year? Sure, there was plenty to watch on Amazon (Jack Ryan), Hulu (PEN15), as well as newcomers Disney+ (The Mandalorian) and Apple TV+ (The Morning Show). But as this new decade queues up, we all know Netflix, the original DVD rental by mail service (remember the red envelope?), remains king…for now, at least.
Netflix dominated 2019 regardless of your personal preference for streaming content. Whether it was comedic, dramatic, or reality television; stand-up specials from the world’s biggest comedians; music documentaries full of never-before-seen footage; continuations of iconic TV series; and films nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards – much like its stock, Netflix continues to rise. Below are 12 Netflix originals from the past 12 months worth re-watching, or watching for the first time if you’ve been living under a rock. Ring in 2020 with a good old-fashion binge session. We all know that’s what you were planning on doing anyway. Cheers!
Russian Doll (February)
Arguably the most binge-able series Netflix has ever produced, Russian Doll was a streaming sensation the likes of which its creators (Natasha Lyonne, Leslye Headland & Amy Poehler) could have never expected. Russian Doll stars Natasha Lyonne as Nadia Vulvokov, a video game engineer caught in a time loop constantly reliving the night of her 36th birthday party. Each night she dies and immediately reappears in the bathroom at her party as “Gotta Get Up” by Harry Nilsson begins and her evening restarts. While it might appear to be Groundhogs Day with Nicky from Orange is the New Black, this series is so much more than that. It’s smart, funny, perfectly paced, and made to consume swiftly. After receiving four Emmy nominations including Outstanding Comedy Series and Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for Natasha Lyonne, the second season is more eagerly anticipated than ever.
Homecoming: A Film by Beyoncé (April)
After back-to-back HBO visual albums, 2013’s Beyoncé and 2016’s Lemonade, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter began work on what would become her next game-changing project. However, before she could deliver her latest labor of love, she would first have to give birth to twin babies. Due to the pregnancy, Beyoncé was forced to postpone her highly anticipated Coachella 2017 headlining performance to the following year. But as most of you already know, the wait for “Beychella” was more than worth it. Everyone around the world streaming the performance via Coachella’s YouTube page experienced the HBCU homecoming-themed performance live. This included the 100 dancers, full marching band, drumline, and Destiny’s Child reunion. But it wasn’t until this spring when Netflix released HΘMΣCΘMING: A Film by Beyoncé – when fans truly got to witness every angle of arguably one of the greatest performances in music history. Edited alongside the behind-the-scenes of how it all came together, HΘMΣCΘMING now stands as the defining moment of Beyoncé’s storied career.
When They See Us (May)
Following the success of her 2016 documentary, 13th – Oscar-nominated director, Ava DuVernay (Selma, A Wrinkle In Time), returned to Netflix this summer with a dramatic limited series telling the story of what became known as the Central Park Five. For anyone still unaware of the series of events, in 1989 five teens from Harlem were convicted first by the media and then by trial for the rape of a Central Park jogger. The five boys spent the following 5-15 years in prison for a crime they didn’t commit, leading to the convicted men suing the city of New York. Starring a remarkable cast including Emmy Award winner Jharrel Jerome for his portrayal of Korey Wise, Michael K. Williams, Vera Farmiga, John Leguizamo, Niecy Nash, and the face of the 2019 college admissions bribery scandal, Felicity Huffman – When They See Us shined a light on a story the country’s younger generation never knew, and it’s older generation may have forgotten.
Black Mirror (June)
Prior to Jordan Peele becoming Hollywood’s modern day master of suspense, there was Charlie Brooker. In 2011, Brooker created a contemporary anthology series in the vein of The Twilight Zone, connecting humanity’s ever evolving relationship with technology and its likely advancements in the not-so-distant future. Brooker described Black Mirror’s approach to storytelling as “the way we live now – and the way we might be living in 10 minutes’ time if we’re clumsy.” After writing six of the first seven episodes to air across the United Kingdom, the series hit Netflix and never looked back. Since 2016, Black Mirror has produced new episodes and an interactive movie directly through Netflix, rapidly spreading the show’s word-of-mouth popularity. This past summer, Netflix released three new episodes of the beloved anthology, all penned by Brooker. The first stars Anthony Mackie in an episode about virtual reality; the second stars Andrew Scott as a rideshare driver dealing with the invasiveness of apps; and the third stars Miley Cyrus in a dual role as pop star Ashley O and her replica AI doll, Ashley Too. While Black Mirror seasons are all too brief, the episodes often stick with you through the year.
Stranger Things 3 (July)
The best part about Stranger Things is how both 10-year-olds and their grandparents can enjoy the show equally. In a time where nobody can agree on anything, Stranger Things serves as the great unifier. Fun for the whole family, season three of America’s favorite supernatural 80s pastiche delivered once again this year. Picking back up around mid-1985 in the infamous fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana – home to the parallel dimension, the Upside Down – the entire Party (Mike, Dustin, Lucas, Will, Max, and Eleven) is back for a new adventure. And just in case the series wasn’t already littered with relics of the past, a central setting throughout all of season three is Hawkins’ brand new Starcourt Mall. Chock full of summer love, Russian conspiracy theories, and everyone’s favorite Demogorgon – it’s hard not to look forward to these semi-annual visits to the Upside Down. Netflix would be wise to keep the Stranger Things seasons coming, for both the young and older audiences.
Dave Chappelle: Sticks & Stones (August)
Since the release of Sticks & Stones, Dave Chappelle’s fifth stand-up special for Netflix in three years, there has been plenty of controversy surrounding the comedian’s material about Michael Jackson’s latest accusers and the Jussie Smollett situation. While audience reviews were mostly positive, with some even saying it was Dave’s best hour since Killin’ Them Softly, the special has received mostly negative reviews from critics. One of the jokes that continue to resonate within Chappelle’s latest stand-up is his take on Anthony Bourdain’s suicide. Filmed in Atlanta by Stan Lathan, who has directed all seven of Chappelle’s specials – other hot topics Dave speaks on include R. Kelly, the LGBTQ community, the opioid crisis, and Louis C.K. For any fan of Dave Chappelle, Sticks & Stones is a must watch. But if you’re easily offended and prefer politically correct humor – I’m assuming that’s why it’s the end of the year and you still haven’t watched this special.
Bill Burr: Paper Tiger (September)
Filmed at the legendary Royal Albert Hall in London, England – Paper Tiger is as polished as Bill Burr screaming at a crowd for an hour can be. Tearing into topics like white women, Michelle Obama, outrage culture, Colin Kaepernick, male feminists, and rage – Burr shares his abrasive brand of comedy with a theater full of fans across the pond. Similar in both topic and tone to Chappelle’s Sticks & Stones special, Paper Tiger is Burr’s patented outspoken way of addressing current issues like the Me Too Movement and cancel culture. Perhaps it’s because Burr is nowhere near the name recognition as Chappelle, but it was a little surprising to see Chappelle receive backlash for joking about the same topics Burr did. Maybe the fact that Burr was performing the jokes to a theater full of Brits rather than Americans also played a role. Either way, both Chappelle and Burr were at the top of their game in 2019, each on full display via Netflix.
Top Boy (September)
The Drake co-sign can often be less of a gift and more of a curse when it comes to rappers and singers, however his sample size for TV series is much greater success rate. Based off the popularity of Degrassi and Euphoria, it’s no surprise Netflix ordered a 10-episode third season of the beloved, yet overlooked British crime drama, Top Boy, upon hearing of Drake’s involvement. A huge fan of the series’ first two seasons – it was seemingly Drake’s interest in seeing new episodes of the East London-set show that even led to the possibility of a revival six years later. The show’s rapper-stars, Ashley “Asher D” Walters and Kane “Kano” Robinson, both returned for the expanded third season. And while it had been a long time apart, England’s favorite drug dealing gangsters, Dushane and Sully, are back in the Summerhouse public housing estate for ten new hours.
El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (October)
From the moment Breaking Bad aired its series finale in 2013, fans were already clamoring for more. Better Call Saul has served well as a prequel series, however it’s the long teased movie that’s continued to circulate since Walter White’s last televised appearance. Hence why viewers were so elated this August when El Camino: A Breaking Bad Mavie’s trailer was released. Answering the prayers of Breaking Bad devotees around the world, the two-hour film revealing Jesse Pinkman’s fate was released on October 11th. It took Vince Gilligan six years, but he finally returned to the scene of the crime to give viewers the epilogue they deserved. Seamlessly bringing back fan favorite characters including Todd (Jesse Plemons), Skinny Pete (Charles Baker), and Badger (Matt Jones), plus vacuum store owner Ed Galbraith (Robert Forster in his final role) – El Camino does a great job wrapping up the story while still peppering in unexpected moments and important flashbacks.
The Devil Next Door (November)
Netflix’s most memorable docu-series of the year, The Devil Next Door, was only released last month, but the praise has been pouring in ever since its debut. The four-hour documentary broken into five episodes tells the story of John Demjanjuk, a retired grandfather living in Cleveland, who is accused of being a Nazi Germany death camp prison guard known by the name “Ivan the Terrible.” The series traces his story from the initial suspicions to his 1981 extradition and incredibly public trial, with first-hand accounts from journalists, attorneys, and family members. Spanning across the US, Israel, and Germany – The Devil Next Door is a haunting true story of unpaid war crimes and possible mistaken identity in the wake of one of the most atrocious events in world history – the Holocaust. Clocking in less than four hours long, you just may binge this entire docu-series in one sitting.
The Irishman (November)
It takes one hell of a film project to get Joe Pesci to come out of retirement. But that’s exactly what Martin Scorsese presented the acting legend with upon casting his latest crime epic, The Irishman. Already receiving the praise of past Scorsese masterpieces Goodfellas and Casino – The Irishman stars Robert De Niro as Frank Sheeran, a truck driver-turned-hitman working for crime boss Russell Bufalino (Pesci) and Teamster labor union leader Jimmy Hoffa, played by Al Pacino. With a cast comprised of these three legends, directed by Scorsese, written by Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List, Gangs of New York, Moneyball), with original music by Robbie Robertson of The Band – The Irishman and its three and a half hour runtime is simply too big to fail. While The Irishman is expected to earn several Oscar nominations, the competition this year may be too steep to award any of the big names listed above. Either way, Scorsese has blessed the world with another cinematic classic to live on amongst the rest of his iconic filmography.
Marriage Story (December)
Noah Baumbach’s 10th overall film and second for Netflix, following 2017’s The Meyerowitz Stories, is shaping up to be the streaming platforms best shot at Oscar glory this awards season. Marriage Story stars Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson as artists in their mid-30s falling out of love. Baumbach has described the film as a love story told from the perspective of divorce. So for those who have experienced divorce either as an adult or child, this film should hit particularly close to home. Drawing inspiration from both his parents and his own divorce experiences – Baumbach has crafted a true to life story only he could tell. In addition to Driver’s Oscar-worthy performance and Johansson’s best since Lost In Translation, the entire cast makes a lasting impression from the supporting cast to even the smallest bit roles. Laura Dern is expected to finally win her first Academy Award for her supporting role as Johansson’s fierce divorce attorney, Nora Fanshaw – while Alan Alda and Ray Liotta play complete opposite lawyers. Julie Hagerty and Merritt Wever both shine as Johansson’s mother and sister, and we need not forget Azhy Robertson as Driver and Johansson’s son Henry – caught in the middle of this coastal custody battle. What a luxury it is to be able to watch one of the year’s finest films from the comfort of your home before any of the award shows. This just might be Netflix’s lasting impact on the future of streaming.