SP Review: The top 5 Netflix films of 2018

Arts and culture reporter Brandon King breaks down his picks for the best Netflix films of 2018

2018 was a great year for films and, in an exciting twist, some of those great films came to us from Netflix of all places.

While I will never claim to be the world's greatest binge-watcher, I did get the chance to check out at least a few films that I think are worth remembering in the context of the year. Let's look back on that collection of films and see which ones really stood out. 

Here are my top five Netflix films of 2018:

5) Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle

Based on Rudyard Kipling's characters, Mowgli, played by Rohan Chand, is a young boy living amongst the wolves in the jungle. He is led by Akela, voiced by Peter Mullan and mentored by Bagheera, voiced by Christian Bale. He is constantly threatened by Shere Khan, voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, who wants to kill the child after killing his family so long ago. When Mowgli attempts to pass the trial of the wolves and fails, he runs away to the human village where he begins to learn the truth about his role in the jungle and what place he might have in both worlds. 

As someone who grew up with the animated Disney "Jungle Book" and adored the 2016 live-action adaptation, I was really looking forward to seeing what director Andy Serkis could do with the technology and story of these characters. While I can't say this is better than the Disney versions, it does have its own unique flair and tone. The voice cast does a fine job embodying these characters, and Chand gives us a quieter, more serious version of Mowgli than seen before. Overall, it's an ambitious attempt to recreate Kipling's work in a darker format, and I can say it's worth checking out, if not just for the curiosity. 

4) To All The Boys I've Loved Before

Based on Jenny Han's novel of the same name, Lara Jean Covey, played by Lana Condor, is a young high school student who writes letters to boys she has crushes on and locks them in her closest for safe keeping. That is — until her sister Kitty, played by Anna Cathcart, emails the letters to Lana's various crushes.

Read more: Movies and Munchies: "To All the Boys I've Loved Before"

Honestly, I originally didn't care about this film at all. It looked like another young adult high school story, with a possibly interesting quirkiness and a lead actress who I didn't care for. I suppose her performance in "X-Men: Apocalypse" can be attributed to bad writing, because Condor delivers in this film. She gets to do a lot with this character, and is the relatable, complex and charming reason you stream the movie. Noah Centineo also provides a fun contrast to the urgency of Lana's motivation, and their chemistry is great to watch. Director Susan Johnson has crafted one of the most unique takes on the young adult formula, and I'm glad it's taken off the way it has. 

3) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs 

An anthology film by the Coen Brothers, "The Ballad of Buster Scruggs" follows six disconnected, individual stories. The singing, gun-slinging Buster Scruggs, played by Tim Blake Nelson; the sly bank robber, played by James Franco; the manager and actor, played by Liam Neeson and Harry Melling, respectively; the grizzled prospector, played by Tom Waits; the pioneerwoman, played by Zoe Kazan; and the five strangers in a stagecoach, played by Tyne Daly, Brendan Gleeson, Jonjo O'Neill, Saul Rubinek and Chelcie Ross, respectively. 

Anthology films are always a bit of a hard sell to most movie fans — myself included — and after the disappointing mess of "Hail, Caesar!" I wasn't really looking forward to seeing another seemingly overpacked Coen Brothers film. To my pleasant surprise, "The Ballad of Buster Scruggs" mostly works, thanks in large part to pacing that helps the six stories feel like they don't overstay their welcome even though they differ in degrees of quality. This is a great film to debate with friends about which segment is your favorite — as a good anthology film should be. It's not very cohesive, and the writing does feel too methodical to follow at times. But I think it's worth giving a shot for at least to some of the segments. 

2) Set It Up

Harper, played by Zoey Deutch, is the assistant to Kirsten, played by Lucy Liu, a prominent sports journalist. Charlie, played by Glen Powell, is the assistant to Rick, played by Taye Diggs, a venture capitalist. What do these two assistants have in common? They're both incredibly overworked and plan to set up Kirsten and Rick on a date to see if their workload can be lightened. But when romance begins to takes precedence, Harper and Charlie have to up their matchmaking game to a new level to keep the "lovers" together.

Every once in awhile, a romantic comedy comes along that doesn't really do anything to break the formula of the genre, but is just so charming and likable that you can't help but root for it. "Set It Up" is that kind of movie. Director Claire Scanlon has a great ear for fun wordplay and character interaction which helped by the four main cast members. It may not rewrite the book on romantic comedies, but it's successfully funny and successfully romantic — I can't ask for more than that.

1) Roma

Cleo, played by Yalitza Aparicio, is a housemaid in the home of Sofia, played by Marina de Tavira, in 1970s Roma, Mexico. She spends her days cooking, cleaning and acting as caretaker to Sofia's children. Her off-time is spent with her friend Adela, played by Nancy Garcia Garcia, who sets her up with a local man named Fermin, played by Jorge Antonio Guerrero. Cleo gets pregnant by Fermin, and must navigate her future while maintaining stability in her surrogate home.

If you read my near-constant praising of Alfonso Cuaron's newest film in my 2019 Oscars predictions, then you know how much I love this film, so I'll try and keep this to a minimum. "Roma" is composed of a masterful mix of gorgeous imagery, an impeccably compelling performance in Aparicio and emotional moments that sneak up with a tragedy and emphasized humanity that you can't turn away from. Yes, it's a slow burn, and I get that not everyone will gravitate towards it. But for myself, it's one of the best films of 2018 overall, and I'll cheer for it if and when it wins its awards. 

Read More: 2019 Oscar Predictions: Who will win and who should win?

What do you think of this list? Do you agree or disagree with these picks, and how mad are you that I didn't include "Bird Box" on the list? Tweet me and let me know! 

Reach the reporter at brandon.D.King@asu.edu or follow @TheMovieKing45 on Twitter.

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