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We still have several months left in 2019, but a handful of excellent Netflix original movies have already hit the platform this year. While the streaming giant’s increased emphasis on original content yields some questionable results, these films stand out for their unique concepts and often heart-wrenching emotional impact.
The best new movies on Netflix in 2019 run the gamut from heartfelt sports dramas touching on relevant social issues to satirical horror flicks poking fun at the pompous art world. With 2018’s Roma earning unanimous critical acclaim and racking up 10 Academy Award nominations, look for more top-tier Netflix originals to appear on the platform soon.
The best Netflix original movies of 2019
High Flying Bird tells the story of a sports agent caught in the crosshairs of an NBA lockout who tries to end it on his own. A strong script from Moonlight screenwriter Tarell Alvin McCraney and a leading performance from André Holland make a potentially insider story compelling, and the film takes on the NBA’s long history of exploiting Black athletes in the process. —Michelle Jaworski
See You Yesterday stars Eden Duncan-Smith as CJ, a science prodigy who invents a pair of time-traveling backpacks with her friend Sebastian (Dante Crichlow). When a police officer kills someone close to them, they must use time travel to save him without screwing up the timeline. The film’s zany humor and colorful aesthetic take cues from Back to the Future and Bill & Ted, and Duncan-Smith gives a charismatic breakout performance, smoothly shifting between youthful banter and the sudden shock of grief. Significantly more thoughtful than your average Netflix original movie, See You Yesterday marks Bristol and Duncan-Smith as ones to watch. —Gavia-Baker Whitelaw
In Always Be My Maybe, childhood best friends Sasha and Marcus reconnect in their hometown of San Francisco after going 15 years without uttering a word to one another. Everyone—including Sasha and Marcus—always thought maybe they might end up together, but 15 years later, the two live conflicting lifestyles. The embrace of the “two best friends fall in love” plot makes it feel like an instant classic—but also formulaic. The most innovative part of Always Be My Maybe is its normalization of two Asian-Americans playing the leads in a romantic comedy, making it a love letter to modern Asian-American culture without turning all of its characters into stereotypes. As predicted, Wong and Park bring plenty of chemistry to the film, making it impossible to root for any ending that doesn’t bring Sasha and Marcus together. — Tess Cagle
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4) I Am Mother
Set in a post-apocalyptic bunker, I Am Mother is a smart thriller about a girl named Daughter (Clara Rugaard) who was raised from birth by a robot named Mother (Rose Byrne) after a mysterious plague wiped out the Earth’s population. Daughter’s peaceful life gets upended when a human survivor (Hilary Swank) arrives from outside the bunker, leading Daughter to question what other lies Mother has been telling. I Am Mother is a twisty, self-contained sci-fi drama that explores wider themes with a small cast, sparing the complicated world-building and simply giving Rugaard and Swank plenty of interesting material. —G.B.W.
5) Paris Is Us
Elisabeth Vogler’s Paris Is Us follows Anna, a young Parisian woman in search of reality, authentic experiences, and anything that will tether her to people and the world. Feeling an increasing sense of isolation, Anna questions everything about reality, from everyday experiences down to whether she’s just living in a simulation. Paris Is Us is pretentious and honest, and it won’t be for everyone. Vogler shoots the film with a floating, fluid camera that creates indelible imagery and puts you in Anna’s headspace. It’s an immersive and unique experience. —E.S.
When Rolling Stone calls, aspiring music journalist Jenny (Gina Rodriguez) knows she has to answer—even if it means moving across the country to San Francisco and jeopardizing her relationship with Nate (Lakeith Stanfield), her boyfriend of nine years. Someone Great is a coming-of-age story about transitioning out of your twenties and saying goodbye to people and places that no longer belong in your life. The heart-wrenching and relatable film challenges its viewers with the idea that sometimes, the best decision for yourself is the hardest one to make. —T.C.
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Paddleton follows Andy and Michael, two best friends who must grapple with Michael’s diagnosis of terminal cancer. The two men stick to their routine, which includes watching kung fu movies and playing their made up game called Paddleton. Mark Duplass and Ray Romano give terrific performances in the leading roles, capturing what it means to be a friend, even if their characters have a hard time expressing themselves. Paddleton is a small, intimate movie that’s both funny and sad without ever becoming overly sentimental. —E.S.
With a full commitment by the cast, Velvet Buzzsaw embraces its absurdity from the start. Set in Los Angeles’ art world, Dan Gilroy’s satirical horror takes on capitalism and the kinds of people who would try to profit from a dead man, even when it starts to kill them. You might not relate to most of the characters or any of their plights, but you won’t be able to take your eyes off them. —M.J.
Looking for something more specific? Here are our Netflix guides for the best war movies, documentaries, anime, indie flicks, true crime, food shows, rom-coms, LGBT movies, alien movies, gangster movies, Westerns, film noir, and movies based on true stories streaming right now. There are also sad movies guaranteed to make you cry, weird movies to melt your brain, old movies when you need something classic, and standup specials when you really need to laugh
Bryan Rolli is a reporter who specializes in streaming entertainment. He writes about music and film for Forbes, Billboard, and the Austin American-Statesman. He met Flavor Flav in two separate Las Vegas bowling alleys and still can’t stop talking about it.