It can be hard to navigate your way through Netflix. For whatever reason, they've an algorithm that makes the same handful of recommendations come up over and over. At times like this, more than ever, you want something new. And something that's actually good.
Thus we're starting up this Netflix hidden gems series.
Every week, we're giving you five recommendations on the streaming service that you either haven't heard of or maybe didn't know were there.
Like we said, it can be hard to find quality shows and movies to watch. But we've got you covered.
There's just something about romantic comedies that's so easy to watch, right? In terms of genre, they're very predictable with the recognisable narrative beats essentially always leading to the same inevitable end. At the same though, that sense of familiarity is comforting and feel-good. Thus if you enjoy the genre and come across a good example of it (because there are a lot of poor rom-coms out there), it's worth seeking out. That's the case with 'Long Shot' starring Charlize Theron as the US Secretary of state and Seth Rogen as a writer who she hires as her speech writer.
We've said time and again how impressive the standard of Netflix documentary series is. 'Cheer', which hit the streaming service earlier this year, is no different. Across six hour-long episodes, it portrays the ups and downs of Navarro College's competitive cheer squad as they go for gold. Trust us when we say you are going to fall in love with the personalities in this show - these kids are truly inspiring.
A Silent Voice
If you're in the mood for something a bit left of field, anime feature 'A Silent Voice' is on Netflix. It is deeply moving and will inspire tears but also hope. A boy who bullies a girl in his class tries to become friends with her when the two are in high school, having been rejected by his other classmates for participating in the bullying. In case you're wondering, no, it's nothing like 'Normal People.'
Basketball seems to be all the hype on Netflix right now. There are episodes of docuseries 'The Last Dance' dropping weekly and '90s classic 'Space Jam' was recently added. If you can't get enough of that content, 'Coach Carter' is a great one to check out. It's generally a great if not slightly schmaltzy sports drama (but sure they're all a bit sentimental, if we're honest). Samuel L Jackson plays the real life figure, who benches his team of high school players when they break their academic contracts with him. I wonder if that will get them motivated...
Most know Viggo Mortensen as the heroic Aragorn, son of Arathorn, from the 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy. More recently, he has come to be associated with playing the menacing Nikolai in 'Eastern Promises' (and with controversial Oscar winner 'Green Book'). In this feature, the actor proves he really is a chameleon as he plays the father and teacher of six children as they live out their lives in the forests of the Pacific Northwest. Mortensen earned nods for the Oscars, Golden Globes and BAFTAs for his performance.
LAST WEEK'S RECOMMENDATIONS...
The End of the F****ing World
Punctuated by Julie London song 'The End of the World', this series moves from a darkly funny to heartbreaking mood with ease. Its leads Alex Lawther and Jessica Barden are fantastic. The pair play rebellious teenagers who run away from home and gradually fall in love. That makes the series sound sappy. It's anything but. In fact, half the time James (Lawther), who believes he's a psychopath, imagines how he's going to kill Alyssa (Barden). It's a short but exhilarating series and while its second season was really unnecessary, the season one finale will blow you away.
You Were Never Really Here
If you've seen 'We Need To Talk About Kevin', you'll have an idea of how competently director Lynne Ramsay creates an ambiance of doom, leading to violence. Fans of 'Joker' also need to check out 'You Were Never Really Here'. It definitely warmed up Joaquin Phoenix to his Oscar-winning performance. In fact some would say his performance here exceeds the villain origin story. 'You Were Never Really Here' sees Phoenix play a mercenary who is hired by a politician to find and rescue his daughter. She has been kidnapped by a human trafficking network and Joe (Phoenix) can use any means necessary to get her back.
It's hard to find a good recent comedy that's genuinely funny. 'Blockers' is one such movie. It stars John Cena, Lesley Mann and Ike Barinholtz as parents who, upon hearing their kids have made a sex pact to lose their virginity on prom night, decide to c**k-block them. It can be quite crude but and a little cheesy (expect some sentimental heart-to-hearts between the parents and their kids, obviously), but if you can put that aside, you'll have a lot of fun and laugh more than you'd expect.
Robert Pattinson took on some interesting roles in the years following 'Twilight'. This was one of his best projects, coming from the writer-director team (the Safdie brothers) behind Adam Sandler starrer 'Uncut Gems'. 'Good Time' follows Pattinson's character Connie and his developmentally disabled brother Nick as they botch a bank robbery. Connie then has to traverse across New York to get the money to get Nick out of jail. It's a gripping thriller with an exquisite lead performance from Pattinson and supports including Jennifer Jason Leigh and Barkhad Abdi ('Captain Phillips').
If you're a fan of 'Creed' and 'Black Panther' star Michael B. Jordan, then you should check out the film that launched his career. Interestingly enough, like 'Creed' and 'Black Panther', it has the same director in Ryan Coogler. Based on a true story, 'Fruitvale Station' depicts the events leading to the death of Oscar Grant. Grant was killed in 2009 by a police officer at the titular Fruitvale district station in Oakland. Clocking in at an hour and a half, it's a succinct and very powerful feature.
'Gerald's Game' is a truly haunting horror that gets stuck in your head for days after watching it. Based on a Stephen King novel - and one of the better adaptations Netflix has done of his works (we're looking at you, 'In the Tall Grass') - it stars Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood as a married couple whose trip away to a remote lake house goes horribly wrong. Directed by Mike Flanagan, who is also the man behind 'The Haunting of Hill House' and 'Hush', it's powerful but dark and graphic. The scariest parts are not what you'd expect.
'Friends' fans will want to check this out, if they haven't already, as it sees Matt LeBlanc play an exaggerated version of himself. Admittedly, the series reached its peak around seasons two to three with the last two seasons losing vitality. But there's still lots of laughs to be had overall. Moreover with each season only comprising nine half-hour episodes, you'll fly through it. The brilliant Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig play a married couple who are co-writers and soon regret agreeing to make a TV series with LeBlanc.
All the Money in the World
People are probably always going to associate 'All the Money in the World' with scandal. Primarily, there was the matter of Kevin Spacey being replaced with Christopher Plummer in the role of J Paul Getty after numerous sexual harassment and sexual assault allegations emerged against the former. Then there was the matter of the unequal pay between leads Mark Wahlberg and Michelle Williams. Such circumstances doomed the movie to box office failure which is a shame as the story surrounding the 1973 kidnapping of John Paul Getty III in Italy is told in a compelling, skillful and thrilling way.
Most people would know Patrick Swayze from 'Ghost' or 'Dirty Dancing'. However 'Road House', while neither a box office nor a critical success, has garnered a pretty decent cult following over the years, at least in part due its ridiculousness. Also multiple references to it in 'Family Guy' helped. Swayze plays a bar bouncer with a new gig. While there were a lot of fight scenes involving his character beating the living daylights out of people, this is probably its most famous because, well, look (unless you’re squeamish).
'Delhi Crime', based on the infamous Nirbhaya case in India, is a dramatised version of the Delhi Police investigation into finding the men who perpetrated the horrific crime. The 2012 case reverberated throughout India and the wider world. It was a atrocious and disturbing crime and the seven-part series provides a powerful recounting of the incident and its aftermath. By no means a pleasant watch, and oftentimes upsetting as well as unsettling, it is intense, immersive and powerful.
Boyz n the Hood
If you've never watched John Singleton's engrossing and hugely affecting social drama, now's your chance. Sure, some of the music and fashion is somewhat dated, but it's one of the most iconic movies to come out the 90s. Laurence Fishburne, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Ice Cube's performances are among the best in their respective careers. Moreover, 'Boys n the Hood' has a lot to say about class and race in America which holds true. This is definitely worth checking out.
A stellar performance from Christian Bale leads this revisionist western that recalls 'Bone Tomahawk' and 'Unforgiven'. An army captain named Joseph Blocker working at Fort Berringer, New Mexico, in 1892, is tasked with bringing a Cheyenne chief and his family back to their tribe in Montana. Blocker assembles a team for the assignment, confronting his prejudicial tendencies and the dangers of the west along the way. This compelling, poignant movie is led by phenomenal performances (from Rosamund Pike as well as Bale), a script that sizzles, and stunning backdrop. Director Scott Cooper's past works include 'Out of the Furnace', 'Black Mass' and 'Crazy Heart' (the latter of which earned Jeff Bridges an Oscar).
So 'Spotlight' most definitely goes into that "movies you've heard of, but didn't know were on Netflix" pile as opposed to the "random Netflix movies you've never of but are actually really good" pile. The 2015 Best Picture Oscar winner is directed by Tom McCarthy. With previous credits spanning 'The Wire', 'Law & Order' and 'Good Night, and Good Luck', this guy definitely knows how to create effective, enthralling drama. 'Spotlight' follows The Boston Globe's investigation into child sex abuse by Roman Catholic priests in the Boston area. Between Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery, and Liev Schreiber, the ensemble cast is simply magnifique.
Eddie the Eagle
The great thing about 'Eddie the Eagle' is that it's suitable for all the family - aside from Hugh Jackman's occasional mouthing off, that is. People will recognise Taron Egerton from 'Rocketman', in which he played the iconic Elton John. Before that, he was best-known for playing the lead of the 'Kingsman' movies, and in between he played the English ski-jumper Michael Edwards, aka "Eddie the Eagle", in this charming biopic about a poor athlete with a big heart and love for his sport.
Top of the Lake
Led by Elisabeth Moss, 'Top of the Lake' is a fascinating, dark thriller set in Sydney following a detective who specialises in sexual assault. Robin Griffin (Moss) was the victim of gang rape as a teenager and thus she struggles to detach personally from the cases she investigates. Both seasons one and two (the latter of which is subtitled 'China Girl') of the critically acclaimed series are on Netflix now; in the latter, 'Game of Thrones' star Gwendoline Christie and Nicole Kidman join as supports.
'Tully' is quite simple at its heart, but breathtakingly good. You'll likely call your mom in tears after seeing it. Charlize Theron gives one of her best performances as Marlo, mother of three, including a newborn baby. Overwhelmed with the demands of being a good mum and wife, a night nanny named Tully (Mackenzie Davis) suddenly arrives on her doorstep, and the two strike up a close bond.
Dallas Buyers Club
At the peak of Matthew McConaughey Renaissance (or the McConaughey-ssance as it's become known), the Texan actor won an Academy award for 'Dallas Buyers Club'. And rightly so. In the feature he plays Ron Woodroof, a rodeo cowboy who manipulates the system to help AIDS patients get medication they need. Jared Leto is stunning as his assistant, Rayon, and he also earned an Oscar for his performance.
A couple of years before her breakthrough performance in 'Pretty Woman', Julia Roberts played a supporting role in this charming feature. She is one of three teenage girls who come of age working at a pizzeria in Connecticut. Director Donald Petrie would go on to direct 'Miss Congeniality' and 'How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days', so cheesy but enjoyable comedies are definitely his forte. Watch out too for a young Matt Damon in 'Mystic Pizza' (he makes his movie debut in the movie).
I Am Not an Easy Man
'I Am Not an Easy Man' on Netflix inspires a lot of laughs as it imagines what it would be like in a world where gender roles were reversed. Its protagonist is a selfish chauvinist who reaps all the benefits of a patriarchal society. That is until a bump to the head transports him to a world where women are in charge. It's an interesting concept with small details that really get you thinking. It's in French but don't let that put you off, because this is great.
The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story
This first season of anthology series 'American Crime Story' has managed to slip by many, in spite being four years old. Cuba Gooding Jr. is haunting as O.J., while Sterling K. Brown, Sarah Paulson, David Schwimmer, John Travolta and Courtney B. Vance all give brilliant performances too in this dramatisation of the O. J. Simpson murder case. It's a little slow to start, but definitely worth sticking through.