With theaters still closed, I’m relying on my Netflix subscription more than ever. Luckily, the service keeps pumping out excellent original content. Here are six of my favorite movies, shows, and limited series they have.
I don’t usually talk about something being “well-directed,” since good directing often doesn’t call attention to itself. But I can’t think of a better catch-all term for how excellent Unorthodox is. The four-episode series, adapted from the book Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots by Deborah Feldman, follows 19-year old Esther as she flees her ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in New York City to Berlin, Germany.
The series doesn’t coddle its audience, instead trusting that the storytelling, acting, and attention to detail will guide the audience through the probably unfamiliar world of ultra-Orthodox Judaism. The story is well balanced in exploring both the beauty and horror of the world Esther leaves behind, and the realistic struggles she has as she tries to build a new life. It also provides fascinating commentary into what it is like for Jewish people in post-WW2 Germany, something I hadn’t really considered before. Actress Shira Haas as Esther and actor Amit Rahav as her husband Yanky are extraordinary. Watching Unorthodox was one of the best four hours I have spent this year, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
2. Crash Landing On You
Don’t let the subtitles scare you! This cinematic South Korean melodrama is one of the most inventive, fun, and unabashedly weird tv shows I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing. At an hour and a half per episode, it’s like getting sixteen movies that somehow are able to blend a handful of genres seamlessly: romance, comedy, action thriller, a political spy drama, fish-out-of-water shenanigans, and Succession-style family business power plays. Crash Landing on You tells the story of powerful-but-troubled South Korean businesswoman Yoon Se-Ri. A paragliding accident lands her in North Korea and into the arms of handsome soldier Ri Jung Hyuk, who tries to help her get back home.
3. Our Planet
For a soothing, ethereal watch with a hint of existential crisis, look no further than Our Planet. Narrated by Sir David Attenborough, the series has the features of all good nature documentaries- gorgeous cinematography, awe-inspiring looks at creation, and a beautiful score. But uniquely, each episode ends with a call to action that explains how humans have negatively impacted each natural habitat and what can be done about it (first by going to ourplanet.com). The inconvenient truths that end each episode are a bummer, but are also hopeful- in most cases, it’s not too late to turn things around.
4. The Kindergarten Teacher
Based on a 2014 Israeli film of the same name, this American remake starring Maggie Gyllenhaal is an unsettling, excellently written and acted drama about a kindergarten teacher who realizes one of her students is a poetry prodigy. As a discontented artist herself, Gyllenhaal’s teacher decides to do whatever she can to foster her student’s talent, blurring the lines of appropriate behavior. It’s the kind of film that racks up the tension without you even realizing until you’re sitting on the edge of your seat in the final act.
5. Bookmarks: Celebrating Black Voices
These short, 8-10 minute episodes feature Black celebrities, from Tiffany Haddish to Misty Copeland, reading children’s books that explore different parts of the Black experience. The series accomplishes several things: one, it features great books that any kid can enjoy, Black or otherwise. Two, the celebrities who read all do a great job, and it reminded me how wonderful it is to be read out loud to, at any age. And third, for white children and their families, it exposes them to Black authors and Black picture-books, which I know was sorely missing when I was growing up. I probably didn’t read a book by a Black author until I was in middle school, and none of my picture books ever had characters of color. If you are a white parent seeking to expose your child to more diversity and fight against racism early on, this is an easy and entertaining place to start.
6. The Haunting of Hill House/ Haunting of Bly Manor
I am a wimp when it comes to horror films, but The Haunting of Hill House and The Haunting of Bly Manor (two different seasons of the same anthology series) are so well-made and more creepy than scary that even I can handle it. Hill House tells the story of the Crain family as the adult children remember their strange summer at Hill House and how it tore their family apart. Bly Manor takes place in the ‘80s and follows young Dani as she becomes a governess for two strange orphaned children in an even stranger manor. Great horror isn’t about making up scary situations, but how bravely it probes the already terrifying things in this life, and this show is a rumination on death and how we are haunted by other people and by our own previous selves and actions. In a time of extremes, both politically and socially, it is refreshing to experience a piece of entertainment that has a thoughtful, melancholic tone. Season 1’s Hill House is an epic, Genesis-style family tragedy, while season 2’s Bly Manor is a slow-burn gothic romance.
– Madeleine D.