Movies

The Best Original Streaming Movies Of 2018

UPROXX/Netflix/AmazonPrime

Your friendly neighborhood multiplexes and art-house theaters still reign superior for the movie-watching experience. There’s no debating that assertion, but times are indeed changing, and as the streaming wars further inflame, Netflix and Amazon are ratcheting up their content coffers in terms of quantity and quality. As such, both services (but mostly Netflix) are offering movies that might land in Oscar territory this year and/or are simply damn enjoyable movies that you wouldn’t want to miss. So while you can and should absorb our overall Best Movies Of 2018 list that focuses upon theatrical releases, this list honors the ongoing transformation of the internet landscape from former cinematic dumping-ground status to a place where great films increasingly land for the first time.

This was a fine year for original streaming movies, given that superb film festival offerings were snatched up by both Netflix and Amazon, and these services are also producing quality titles on their own. And although some people were lucky enough to catch limited theater screenings of these movies, most folks will be streaming them. Yes, Netflix offerings do vastly outnumber Amazon’s fare on this list (while Hulu’s still focusing on original TV), and this list veers wildly in terms of genre and what you’d normally expect on a year-end list. Yet all of these movies deserve consideration for your queues, in no particular order.

Netflix

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

I wrote what I thought was one of my better film reviews this year about Buster Scruggs, and then a friend casually described it as the “Oops, all berries” Coen Brothers movie, and I wanted to punch him because that’s exactly right. If you ever wanted to see all of the Coens’ storytelling tics, favored themes, and consistent fascinations in one movie, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is for you. This one has it all — mortality, folk music, archaic vernacular, fluffy pets as harbingers of evil, Tom Waits — everything! Or, as a brave man (me) once put it: It feels like the Coens are trying to delve into the oldest stories we tell about ourselves in order to understand what we are, using a collective consciousness as a balm to the anxiety over mortality that underpins almost all their work. – Vince Mancini

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Netflix

First Match

This movie turned out to be one of my favorite overall watches (streaming or theatrical) of the year. Yet initially, I was skeptical about the premise — a teenage girl attempts to win the attention and approval of her deadbeat, ex-con father by joining the boys’ wrestling team at school. This seemed a little insulting at best (daddy issues in 2018? no thank you), and we’ve all seen underdog sports stories played into oblivion. Yet I was soon swept into Elvire Emanuelle’s performance. She fiercely dazzles as Mo, who pinballs between foster homes until finding purpose on the mat, while Sketchy Bio Dad (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) has different designs on her talents, tempting her into the world of bare-knuckled brawling. You may yearn to look away from a few of these bruising fight scenes but fail, as Abdul-Mateen’s charismatic ways will show you exactly why Mo has to fight so hard to find her own truth. It’s a bloody and unyielding film, full of breath-holding moments, and it’s a showcase for two compelling talents. – Kimberly Ricci

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Neflix

Roma

If handled correctly, Netflix will have their first Best Picture Oscar nominee with Roma. I have no doubt about that. Netflix has given small theatrical runs to films before – last year Mudbound got a small, limited run and picked up some nominations but didn’t get the Best Picture nomination it deserved – but I hope they reconsider for Roma. This is a gorgeous movie, meticulously shot, that deserves and commands your full attention. I do worry, at home, on Netflix, some of that might be lost. And I’m not even a purist when it comes to this kind of thing. I’m not a “sanctity of the movie theater” person. I realize with my profession I see movies in the best of possible conditions and that the real movie theater experience has become kind of lousy. But Roma is a special movie that needs that all-encompassing experience. Alfonso Cuarón has made yet another movie that will transport you to another time and place. You will feel like you’re living it. I really hope you get to experience it like I did. – Mike Ryan

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Amazon

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot

Joaquin Phoenix will crush your heart and rebuild it afresh with his portrayal of quadriplegic, alcoholic cartoonist John Callahan. Gus Van Sant’s biopic descends into the darkest depths after Callahan’s fateful accident, one that pushed him to rock bottom several times. In turn, Phoenix portrays a shell of a man with nothing left to lose, one whose struggles and unique perspective propelled him to champion irreverent and politically incorrect humor, while often reveling in macabre and otherwise untouchable subjects. He’s bolstered by a stellar supporting cast, including a mad-dog Jack Black, as the partygoer on a different path than Callahan, and Rooney Mara, as his physical therapist with whom he shares a special bond. However, Jonah Hill seals the deal with a magnetic performance as an AA sponsor with an unconventional approach. In other words, come for the celebration of Callahan’s life, keep streaming for the rise of the Phoenix and Jonah Hill cutting a rug. – Kimberly Ricci

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Netflix

The World Is Yours

Francois (Karim Leklou) is a Moroccan-French drug dealer essentially born into the underworld, thanks to his con artist mom (Isabelle Adjani), who dreams of going straight and becoming a popsicle distributor. The World Is Yours is the story of Francois making good. The World Is Yours, from director Roman Gavras, is as funny and visually dazzling as a Guy Ritchie movie, but also less gimmicky, and with better acting. Vincent Cassel, who we usually see as a villain or an intense Gallic lover, here plays Francois’s dopey, Illuminati-obsessed stepfather. (It might be his finest role.) There’s plenty of political satire there if you want to see it — about the migrant crisis, about the Europe’s debate over multiculturalism — but even if you missed all of it, The World Is Yours would still be an action-packed comedic romp. – Vince Mancini

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Netflix

The Night Comes For Us

In a word, The Night Comes For Us: F*cks. It’s a hyper-violent action-thriller starring two guys from The Raid (Iko Uwais and Joe Taslim), strong female characters (led by Julie Estelle, who was in… The Raid 2), and enough gore to satisfy any genre enthusiast. The Jakarta-set plot follows an elite assassin who turns his back on the deadly company that employed him to save a young girl, and… you know what? None of that matters, really. You’re here for the fight scenes, and they do not disappoint (especially the epic brawl near the end of the movie). There might be grunt noises in The Night Comes for Us than words spoken. It’s a delightfully over-the-top knockout. – Josh Kurp

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Netflix

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before

A romcom on a best-of-2018 list? Get outta here. On second thought, it’s no wonder that a sequel’s already in the works for one of Netflix’s most-watched original pieces of content. This film is part of the streaming service’s romcom resurrection and, quite frankly, the top of that crop. Lana Condor busts both gender and racial stereotypes as Lara Jean Covey, a teen who lives out her worst nightmare when every letter that she’s secretly written to her crushes gets released into the wild. Based upon the book series by Jenny Han, Covey’s a role model for everyone who’s ever fallen into the trap of believing that they’re not enough on their own. Noah Centiano may have emerged as an overnight heartthrob because of this film, but he still takes a backseat to the three sisters who stick together through tough times. Self-love gets a lot of lip service elsewhere without added thought, but this film walks the walk. – Kimberly Ricci

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Netflix

Private Life

Tamara Jenkins wrote and directed this slow burn dramedy about the minutiae of the lengthy, frustrating, and often cold fertility process, pulling from her own experiences in a way that gives the material a sheen of obvious authenticity. So dense is the story that its relatability and emotionality might be lost with lesser actors. Fortunately, Jenkins leans on Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti to play an artistically minded middle-aged couple that is trying — with varying levels of enthusiasm — to fill a perceived hole in their lives by adding a child, no matter the odds, expense, or emotional risk. An experience that, at times, may be creating an even bigger hole in their relationship. – Jason Tabrys

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Via Netflix

Bird Box

Sandra Bullock stars in this adrenaline-fueled adaptation of Josh Malerman’s 2014 bestselling novel, and it’s a shame that it didn’t arrive before John Krasinski’s smash-hit, A Quiet Place, because inevitably, unfair comparisons shall be made. The story is equally captivating and revolves around an unseen force that causes people to succumbing into suicidal insanity unless they stay blindfolded. Bullock is convincing as a mother protecting two children, and John Malkovich also maneuvers deftly through the mayhem. Horror fans, if you’ve ever wanted to see Stephen King’s Cell come to life — at least as far as all hell breaking loose when something causes people to lose their minds — the opening act of this film is as close as you’ll get. — Kimberly Ricci

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Netflix

Hold The Dark

Look, I’ll admit Hold The Dark might not be for everyone. It’s not the kind of movie that tells you exactly what it was on about at the end. But I for one appreciated Jeremy Saulnier’s attempt at an Alaskan Southern Gothic. Mostly because his ability to punch you in the mouth remains firmly intact. No one shoots action like Saulnier, shrieking visual metal riffs punctuated by hyperreal gore. Hold the Dark also includes some memorable performances by Alexander Skarsgard, Riley Keough (future Oscar winner, mark my words), James Badge Dale, and especially Julian Black Antelope. Hold The Dark is an unforgettable combination of meditation and explosion. – Vince Mancini

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Netflix

Cam

Blumhouse Productions co-produced this technology-driven, Cronenberg-esque dive into the realm of webcam porn. Despite the cheap thrills sought by its characters, the film takes no gimmicky shortcuts to genuine tension, and Madeline Brewer (Orange Is The New Black) stars as the gutsy Alice, a cam girl whose identity is hacked by an imposter. This tale gets downright existential while examining not only identity but the principles of control, consent, and exploitation. It’s a startlingly feminist take, and this film works soberingly well, especially when examined amid the real-life backdrop of safety issues for sex workers that have been complicated by recent U.S. laws. It’s also one of the year’s better thrillers. — Kimberly Ricci

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Netflix

The Kindergarten Teacher

Maggie Gyllenhaal never moves a muscle without premeditative purpose, and this performance is no exception. Here, she takes another understated turn while also, impossibly, ratcheting up the intensity while playing an obsessive teacher, Lisa, who grows fixated upon a poetic protégé of a 5-year-old boy, Jimmy (Parker Sevak). Gyllenhaal straddles a fine line for much of the film, all while the viewer veers between wondering whether or not her behavior is truly inappropriate. Yet slowly, and inevitably, Lisa begins to slide off the rails. This is an unnerving psychologically thriller but unpredictably so, especially since Gyllenhall refrains from throwing obviously crazy vibes, whereas a lesser actress could have easily descended into caricature mode. The performances here are riveting across the board, including a supporting turn from Gael García Bernal. – Kimberly Ricci

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