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The Ten Best Netflix Original Movies of 2018

By Dustin Rowles | Streaming | December 21, 2018 |

By Dustin Rowles | Streaming | December 21, 2018 |


Dumplin — The story of Dumplin’ is slight, but as any good pageant queen will tell you, the devil is in the details. Dumplin’ is low stakes in terms of narrative but high emotion at all times. Not gonna lie, I cried through like 40 percent of this film, and it wasn’t all because of the Dolly Parton music. But yes, the all-Dolly soundtrack, including several new songs, is a major selling point for the film. Ms. Parton is the real guiding light of Dumplin’, the ever-wise dispenser of wisdom to misfits everywhere, one who’s always in on the joke and ten steps ahead of everyone else. Yes, you know where Dumplin’ is going and how everything will wrap up. That’s not the point the film or Willowdean want to make. It’s a simple story of minor revolution through the radical act of being yourself on purpose. — Kayleigh Donaldson

The Ballad of Buster ScruggsThe Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a six-part anthology, with each chapter exploring a different trope of the Western genre. Sharpshooters, bank robbers, prospectors, traveling entertainers, pioneers on the Oregon Trail, and stagecoach travelers all pop up, and the locations — some filmed in New Mexico — are gorgeous and evocative of the Old West. Put bluntly, however,these segments aren’t equally strong. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is very much a Coen Brothers movie, and I mean that both as a compliment and as a critique. It has a macabre sense of humor, flirts with the eerie, and is very dialogue-heavy, but it’s also very dialogue-heavy and imbalanced narratively. Roxana Hadadi


To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before — The movie is fun and winsome. Things get a bit clunky as references to John Hughes movies are wedged in, but this overeagerness aside, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a satisfyingly charming and romantic comedy about teen love and tough realizations. But Almost-Ruffalo (Noah Centineo) is its very best bit. There are plenty of cute boys in teen movies, but few have this kind of charisma that makes them perfectly crush-worthy. He’s not just roguishly handsome, but playful and funny with a dynamic energy and a bit of a wild streak. All this brews to make a perfect first-boyfriend fantasy, the kind you dreamed of as a girl and the kind you may still reminisce over. This makes To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before a total treat and a perfect pick for a night of Netflix and Girls Night in. — Kristy Puchko

Set It Up — Netflix’s latest, Set It Up, is the quintessential Netflix comedy. It’s the perfect movie to watch on your laptop while lying in bed, and that is not by any means an insult. There’s nothing at all boundary-pushing about Set It Up, but it works to phenomenal effect thanks to 1) the lowered expectations of a Netflix movie, and 2) Zoey Deutch. Holy shit, Zoey Deutch is amazing. She is electric: Funny, clever, and unimaginably cute. She’s basically the streaming Meg Ryan. She’s absolute magic, and I honestly don’t know if the male romantic lead, Glen Powell, is also good, or if Zoey Deutch elevates him so much that he seems great in this. — Dustin Rowles

RomaRoma is about the downfall of a civilization. From the first shot, it is clear that Roma will be an exceptional film. Every moment of happiness these women try to find is marred by someone succeeding where they failed, or death. Yet, like all women, they persist. Executed to near perfection, this movie serves as a nostalgic time capsule of Mexico in the early ’70s. Every performance is alive and intriguing. — Joelle Monique


Private Life — In Tamara Jenkins’ first movie since The Savages (what? How is that possible?), she explores a marriage strained by efforts to have a child through failed in-vitro fertilization and adoption. Those efforts take on a form of addiction — it becomes an all-consuming life-defining obsession that eventually feels less about having a kid and more about winning the process. That process eventually entails trying to use a donor egg from their niece, who moves in with them, adding layers of awkwardness to an already maddening, emotional ordeal. I wouldn’t call it a funny movie, but there are funny moments, and Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti go a long way toward mining the entertainment value out of a very specific form of frustration. — Dustin Rowles

Land of Steady Habits — The poignant, funny, lovely and thoughtful movies of writer and director Nicole Holofcener (Enough Said, Please Give) feel well suited to Netflix, so bringing The Land of Steady Habits to the streaming service feels like a no-brainer. Steady Habits stars Ben Mendelsohn, who plays a character who quits his lucrative job and divorces his wife (Edie Falco) in an effort to escape the monotonous rut of his life. That decision comes with its own host of problems, however, as he struggles to parent his son, date someone new (Connie Britton) despite stress-related impotence, and balance his need to be a parental figure to a teenage kid with a drug problem and his desire to be the kid’s friend and drug companion. It’s a spectacular character drama that tackles middle-aged malaise from Holofcener’s insightful and bittersweet perspective. — Dustin Rowles

Bird Box — Sandra Bullock’s great performance aside, Susannah Bier’s film, adapted from the 2014 novel by Josh Malerman, is a little uneven and some of the dialogue is clunky and cliched. But the music by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is suspenseful, the cinematography by Salvatore Totino really frames what Malorie and the children are facing during this river journey, and the spookiness of invisible beings urging you to harm yourself and others is, while familiar, nevertheless effective. The idea of sacrifice is a common theme throughout Bird Box: What else are the people who are hurting themselves doing than sacrificing themselves to the will of these unseen entities? Isn’t putting herself in danger to protect these children exactly what Malorie is doing, too? But what is worth the loss of self, and what isn’t? Maybe there’s a simple answer to that, but Bird Box complicates it enough to make it quite compelling. — Roxana Hadadi

Cargo — I was too emotionally exhausted by Cargo to reflect much on its politics. It’s only now, a day later, that I can organize my thoughts enough to put that stuff into words. I’m still mostly struck by just how hard the film was to watch. The horror of the film comes from its all-encompassing dread: that you truly DO know where it’s going. But the journey toward that inevitable end still has room for beauty and triumph and pain and heartbreak. And maybe the fact that there is a journey at all, despite the inevitable, is another part of makes us human. — Tori Preston


Hold the Dark — Jeremy Saulnier’s follow-up to the phenomenal Green Room is another intense, almost suffocatingly violent, and unnerving film about a man (Jeffrey Wright) who accepts an invitation from a young mother (Riley Keogh) to come to Alaska and track down the wolf that killed her son. That’s not quite how it unfolds, however, because when the woman’s husband (Alexander Skarsgård) returns from the Iraq War to news that his son is dead, a violent chain of events unfolds. Hold the Dark is grim, unsettling, and brutal, but in its own way, weirdly beautiful. Jeffrey Wright turns in a powerfully quiet performance, but Skarsgård brings the piercing menace that at times makes this feel like a horror film. — Dustin Rowles

Review: Don't Skip Netflix's 'Bird Box' Just Because You Saw 'A Quiet Place' | 'Superman: The Movie' 40th Anniversary Of Believing That A Man Can Fly

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

Header Image Source: Netflix