Critic Sarah Ward picks 10 of the most exciting Netflix original films arriving in 2019. Among the highlights: a John Wick-esque assassin movie, a Jake Gyllenhaal art thriller and a new Scorsese crime drama.
2018 saw Netflix release more new movies than a major Hollywood studio, winning the Venice Film Festival’s Golden Lion for one and breaking the platform’s first-week streaming record with another. But what will follow in Roma and Bird Box’s footsteps? Or Annihilation, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, Cam, The Christmas Chronicles, Private Life, Shirkers, The Other Side of the Wind and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’s footsteps, for that matter?
With the company expected to add at least 90 new original films to its lineup this year, its 2019 slate is heavy with star-studded fare and high-profile directors alike – including these 10 titles to add to your watch list.
The phrase “like John Wick, but starring…” has become all too common in the five years since Keanu Reeves introduced the world to his no-nonsense assassin. With Polar, Mads Mikkelsen completes the sentence – and no one is complaining. Based on the graphic novels of the same name and directed by Swedish filmmaker Jonas Åkerlund (Small Apartments), this noir-leaning effort follows a top hitman not only forced back onto the job, but fighting for his life against his younger successors.
Already three for three across his directorial career, Margin Call, All Is Lost and A Most Violent Year’s JC Chandor returns with this star-filled crime flick about five military veterans who decide to rob a South American drug cartel boss. Triple Frontier features Ben Affleck, Oscar Isaac, Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund and Pedro Pascal as the thieving ex-Special Ops members, in a film co-written by The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty’s Mark Boal – and originally set to be helmed by Kathryn Bigelow.
A Nightcrawler reunion boasting writer/director Dan Gilroy and actors Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo, this Sundance-premiering art world-set effort likes its satire with a heavy serving of thrills. The premise is rife with both, while also resembling a horror version of 2017 Palme d’Or winner The Square. When an art agent unearths a vast collection of previously unseen pieces from an unknown, just-deceased artist – and ignores instructions to dispose of the entire treasure trove – there’s dire, unsettling consequences for everyone involved.
High Flying Bird
Debuting at Slamdance before heading straight to Netflix, High Flying Bird continues Steven Soderbergh’s latest trend, marking his second consecutive film that has been shot on an iPhone. It worked well for 2018’s Unsane, and no doubt it’ll bring a sense of immediacy and intimacy to this basketball drama. Written by Moonlight Oscar winner Tarell Alvin McCraney, the feature stars André Holland as an NBA agent, with Zazie Beetz, Melvin Gregg, Sonja Sohn, Zachary Quinto, Kyle MacLachlan also among the cast.
After directing episodes of Parks and Recreation and Broad City, Amy Poehler makes her filmmaking debut with a comedy that couldn’t boast a better lineup of talent, particularly for fans of stellar female comedians. The Saturday Night Live alum stars alongside her former cast members Tina Fey, Maya Rudolph, Rachel Dratch and Ana Gasteyer, as well as SNL writer Paula Pell – and Jason Schwartzman. Story-wise, the film follows a group of friends celebrating a 50th birthday with a road trip to Napa.
First glimpse from the set of The Irishman
With his latest mob drama, Martin Scorsese turns his attention to crime boss Jimmy Hoffa and alleged hitman Frank Sheehan, with the iconic director adapting Charles Brandt’s non-fiction book I Heard You Paint Houses. The Irishman’s story, real-life basis and status as Scorsese’s newest (and long-awaited) gangster flick are all valid reasons for excitement, but so is the movie’s cast – with the filmmaker not only re-teaming with Robert De Niro yet again, but pairing him with Al Pacino and also coaxing Joe Pesci out of retirement.
Combine Shakespeare, an Aussie filmmaking reunion and a who’s who of Hollywood’s current young talents, and the result is The King, the second Netflix film from Australian director David Michôd. Adapting the bard’s Henry IV, Parts 1 & 2 and Henry V, the Animal Kingdom helmer also co-wrote the script with Joel Edgerton, who is just one of the movie’s high-profile stars. Ben Mendelsohn takes on the role as Henry IV, alongside Timothée Chalamet as Henry V, while Robert Pattinson, Lily-Rose Depp, Thomasin McKenzie and Sean Harris also feature.
Always Be My Maybe
Nahnatchka Khan’s Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23 will always sit on the pile of great sitcoms cancelled much too soon. She’s been busy with Fresh Off the Boat since, and with Always Be My Maybe, she makes her filmmaking debut. A rom-com about childhood friends reuniting, falling in love and discovering how much has changed since they last crossed paths, the movie stars Ali Wong and Randall Park as the central couple, with Daniel Dae Kim, Charlene Yi and Keanu Reeves among the supporting cast.
The Last Thing He Wanted
Before Roma became the current applauded and awarded Netflix title, that mantle was rightfully held by Dee Rees’ Oscar-nominated Mudbound — and the filmmaker returns to the streaming platform with her next effort, the political thriller The Last Thing He Wanted. Led by Anne Hathaway, Willem Dafoe and Ben Affleck, the drama focuses on a Washington Post journalist who turns arms dealer around the time of the 1984 US Presidential election, as based on the 1996 novel by Joan Didion.
Michael Bay’s Transformers movies rank among the worst things committed to celluloid this century, if not ever, but when the director is at his best – see 2013’s Pain & Gain, for example – he’s an intriguing, fascinating and thrilling filmmaker. Here’s hoping that Six Underground has more in common with his greatest movie, rather than his shape-shifting robot franchise. The action-thriller’s cast includes Ryan Reynolds, Mélanie Laurent, Dave Franco, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo and Corey Hawkins, and genre-wise, Bay is definitely in familiar territory.