Directed by Susan Johnson, To All the Boys I've Loved Before doesn’t fall into genre traps. The lead isn’t a quirky, insecure journalist, but rather a stylish teenager who writes in private. Lana Condor’s Lara Jean Covey doesn’t need a makeover, but rather a boyfriend who appreciates her as a woman. With its subtle nods to the cinematic past and understanding of modern culture, To All the Boys I've Loved Before’s narrative feels clever and progressive, but without feeling the need to shout it out loud. Condor’s character is a breath of fresh air, a diverse character who doesn’t seem interested in being The Cool Girl, The Manic Pixie Dream Girl, or a Mean Girl. She’s just Lara Jean.
In contrast to Set It Up’s Charlie, Noah Centineo’s Peter is likable from the start in To All the Boys I've Loved Before. Plus, he feels like a worthy boyfriend for Lara Jean, even if she can’t quite pinpoint his intentions. As a whole, the film’s use of social media is spot-on, and it seems to understand the day to day realities of high school life. Most teen romance films feel the need to overly explain cultural trends, but To All the Boys I've Loved Before understands its identity. And Condor’s natural charisma and star power will ultimately translate to various genres beyond this franchise.
Filmmaker Cary Joji Fukunaga set a high bar with Netflix’s first original film, Beasts of No Nation. Based on Uzodinma Iweala's novel, the war drama is a relentless and fictional account of a young boy’s transformation into a child soldier. Early on, Abraham Attah’s Agu promotes an “imagination TV,” only to then be separated from his family and captured by a rebel group known as the NDF (Native Defense Forces). Not only did Fukunaga write and direct Beasts of No Nation, but he also shot the film, and it’s the frantic visual style that powerfully parallels the immediacy of the events unfolding.
While Attah delivers a heartbreaking and education performance as Beasts of No Nation's young rebel, Idris Elba is unforgettable as the unforgiving Commandant. In HBO’s iconic crime series The Wire, Elba’s Stringer Bell is both street smart and cognizant of the larger picture. Beasts of No Nation’s Commandant is similarly well-educated and dangerous, and he’s willing to figuratively make a scene in order to drive home a fundamental message about survival and politics. Overall, Beasts of No Nation will challenge viewers, and the experience isn’t always pleasant. However, the best films force audiences to consider alternate perspectives, and this Netflix Original gets the job done.
Directed by the Coen brothers, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and its unconventional narrative doesn't necessarily align with the "Netflix and Chill" mantra. Still, it's a wholly unique Netflix Original with universally relatable messages. Characters come and go in the six-chapter western anthology film, and patience is critical when processing the collective stories, and how they connect. Once again, the Coens introduce a new group of memorable characters, all of whom understand that death is around the corner. And it's that dark comedy that speaks to what it means to be human, and to be flawed.
Visually, each vignette in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs offers something different. Some chapters have a touch of surrealism, while others are steeped in western traditions. It's that visual flair from cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel that not only sets up classic Coen brothers monologues, but also informs the audience about the characters' hopes and fear. With The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, the filmmakers show just how far they've come over the years, as they begin with an unforgettable, wise-talkin' character but progressively tame down the wink-of-the-eye, in-your-face humor in favor of more traditional storytelling. And that's what fans have come to love over the years: the Coens set the table with familiar faces and over-the-top moments, only to blaze a new trail and leave the answers blowin' in the wind.