Streaming video has turned our living rooms into an endless video store, with a vast array of titles to choose from.
Netflix has around 10,000 titles, taking in everything from rom-coms to action movies, TV shows and documentaries; and that can be a problem. It's called the paradox of choice; faced with an endless array of options, people freeze up. Before you know it, you've spent an hour scrolling through the possible choices, and you've run out of time to watch a movie.
Fear not; we've done all the hard work for you, picking out the cream of the streaming crop. Read on…
Alex Garland’s directorial debut is a brilliantly realised slice of sci-fi about what makes us human. Oscar Isaac plays Nathan, the charismatic billionaire CEO of a tech company who wrote the code for his search engine as a child.
When one of his employees, super-nerd Caleb, wins a competition to spend a week at his boss’s high-security bunker home, Nathan uses it as an opportunity to test his new invention: Eva, the physical incarnation of Nathan’s latest AI software. But can she pass the Turing Test even when the examiner knows full well she’s a robot?
While Caleb is something of an off-the-shelf geek, Nathan is a cross between Mark Zuckerberg and a Bond villain. One minute he’s sweating out a hangover and dancing with his live-in maid like a laddish Steve Jobs, the next he’s intimidating Caleb from the darkness of his concrete-walled, warren-like lair.
The interactions between Eva and Caleb could easily have become tedious interviews but Garland infuses them with flirtatious humanity. Much like Joaquin Phoenix’s character in Her, Caleb finds a lot to like in his artificial companion, with some incredible make-up and special effects making her equally appealing and believable to the audience. And that’s what makes the denouement of Ex Machina all the more shocking.
A Netflix Original, this animated series features Arrested Development’s Will Arnett as the titular Horseman, a, er, “horse man” who enjoyed success in a beloved 1990s sitcom but now wallows in boozy, druggy self-loathing as a washed-up former star. But don't worry if we've made it sound too grim - the show's serious:silly ratio is nicely balanced.
Set in a skewed version of Hollywood in which humans live alongside anthropomorphic animals, BoJack Horseman features a strong cast (Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul plays BoJack’s best friend Todd while Alison Brie plays love interest Diane) and razor sharp writing, and with three seasons and a couple of one-off specials available, it's perfect fodder for a weekend binge-watch blowout.
This series (now four seasons plus a France-based spin-off season strong) shadows world-renowned chefs as they take viewers on a personal journey through their culinary evolution - providing an intimate, informative glimpse into what gets their creative juices flowing.
Lovingly shot in razor-sharp 4K quality (for those with the necessary Netflix subscription), Chef's Table is so well-made that you can almost smell the aromas seeping out of your screen and tickling your nostrils. From glistening, perfectly-cooked cuts of meat to mouth-watering veggie dishes, this is food pornography of the highest order. Just try not to drool all over your TV.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
The first Star Wars movie to come without an episode number in its title, Rogue One is a totally separate story set in the same universe – even though it can’t quite resist including some brief appearances by classic characters as fan service.
A space opera spin on the “men on a mission” war movie, Rogue One follows the efforts of a motley band of Rebel Alliance troops as they attempt to steal plans to the Death Star. Anyone familiar with previous Star Wars movies will know that this mission succeeds, but the excitement here comes from finding out who – if any – of the band of outcasts will survive until the closing credits, not to mention from the spectacular action sequences. A grittier, grimmer take on Star Wars sure to please fans and newcomers alike.
Marvel Studios’ latest foray into episodic television is far and away its best - a gritty, street-level crime drama that has more in common with The Wire than Captain America. Boardwalk Empire’s Charlie Cox stars as the costumed crusader Daredevil – blinded in an accident but granted heightened senses and perception.
With an extended running time to play with, and none of the constraints of broadcast TV, Daredevil is free to explore the ramifications and moral complexities of super-powered vigilantism – with Daredevil's alter ego Matt Murdock working as an attorney by day, there are plenty of moral grey areas to explore. It’s also free to flesh out its supporting characters, including a stellar Vincent D’Onofrio as hulking crime boss Wilson Fisk.
This tense, Belfast-set show centres on a pair of truly compelling characters – Gillian Anderson’s icy, complex detective and Jamie Dornan’s obsessive serial killer - and is equal parts police procedural and psychological thriller.
We all already knew that Anderson was a fantastic actor, but ex-model Dornan is perfectly cast and surprisingly affecting as an apparently normal, caring family man with a deep-seated sickness lying just beneath the surface.
With every episode of the three-season show in Netflix USA’s library, there's never been a better time to let The Fall's cold grip get a hold of you.
Beasts Of No Nation
Netflix’s first foray into feature film-making is not for the faint hearted. This is the story of a young boy, horribly orphaned as the result of a militia attack on his village, who falls into the retinue of a brutal, yet also charming commander of a band of child soldiers.
It’s violent, visceral and sobering, and features Idris Elba in his most impressive performance to date. But it’s newcomer Abraham Attah who shines brightest of all as the boy at the centre of the drama.
The defining sitcom of the 90s has hit Netflix, affording you the opportunity to lose yourself in ten seasons’ worth of terrible fashion (Mom jeans! Denim vests!) and relationship drama (“We were on a break!”).
The early seasons, when the characters had yet to become caricatures, are better – but although the show developed into more of a comedy-drama than a sitcom, its writers’ room continued to pump out gags with astonishing efficiency. It’s also an entertaining time capsule of a bygone age, when the Internet was the exclusive preserve of geeks and smartphones were but a twinkle in Steve Jobs’ eye. How on Earth did we cope?
Jessica Jones is, like Daredevil, a product of the Netflix/Marvel partnership and follows the eponymous character (played by the superb Krysten Ritter) as she attempts to set up her private detective business in NYC, battle with her superhero demons and drink every bar in the Big Apple dry.
Oh, and she also has to face her nemesis, the obsessive, abusive and mind-controlling sadist Zebediah Kilgrave, brilliantly played by David Tennant.
But great though the two leads are, New York City is every bit as integral to JJ’s appeal: it looks simply stunning, with a gritty, stylised feel that is quickly coming to characterise Netflix’s Marvel forays. And of course that’s all the more true in the 4K stream available to owners of 4K TVs. Stunning stuff.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
There’s no room for James Bond or Jason Bourne in this muted spy drama; based on the novel by John Le Carre, it populates the world of espionage with damaged, shabby men who play chess with other people’s lives. Gary Oldman’s George Smiley is one such figure, brought out of an enforced retirement to track down a Soviet mole in the “Circus”.
Director Tomas Alfredson imbues the 1970s setting with a melancholy air, as his characters trudge through nicotine-stained offices and rain-sodden London streets. Oldman gives a stellar performance opposite a Who’s Who of British thesps, including the old guard of John Hurt, Colin Firth and Toby Jones, and young whippersnappers Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hardy. Unmissable.
Planet Earth II
Got a 4K TV? Then get this peerless nature series on your watchlist, stat. There’s no better way to experience UHD – from the bright pink flamingo bathing in a shimmering blue pool to a yellow jaguar lurking within the dense green jungle, there’s an abundance of colour within the animal kingdom.
And it’s not just stunning visuals that are on offer here – Sir David Attenborough’s narration will stir your emotions while also leaving you with more knowledge about the world we inhabit.
The Office’s Mackenzie Crook writes, directs and stars in this quintessentially English sitcom about a pair of Essex metal detector enthusiasts. On paper, it might sound like the recipe for a broadly comic, canned laughter-laden Vicar of Dibley- or Last of the Summer Wine-style “aren’t these rural nerds weird?” series, but Detectorists (the proper term for people who use metal detectors) is far more subtle and nuanced than that.
It’s very funny, for sure, with sharp writing and fine performances from Crook and Toby Jones, and aside from its well-drawn, likeable and flawed characters there’s something special in its depiction of the English landscape that these men and women trudge over in search of Roman gold or Saxon silver day after day – always coming away empty-handed. Warm and affectionate without being sentimental, it’s a series that somehow feels both low-key and very important.
Dysfunctional families have been done to death on both the big screen and TV, but the Bluths are up there with the most self-centred, destructive and, well, downright hilarious bunch of the lot.
Straight man George Bluth desperately tries to keep his family and fortune intact as their company is hit by the US government for embezzlement.
Superb performances from the likes of David Cross, coupled with tonnes of re-quote potential make this a must-watch. It gets a little lost after the first three seasons thanks to the actors' other projects clashing with filming, but it's still well worth watching until the very end.
Co-produced by Netflix and the BBC, this British drama series is real state-of-the-nation stuff, with its ensemble cast (which includes Carey Mulligan at her best) and twisting plot allowing writer David Hare to explore a soaring gamut of themes, from the refugee crisis to zero hours contracts to PTSD in the military. At its heart, though, Collateral is a murder mystery thriller, and Hare’s examinations of the modern-day UK don’t get in the way of a good, tense police yarn – one that doesn’t feel the need to outstay its welcome either, with everything being wrapped up in a trim four episodes.
It takes a lot of tact to make a film about a delicate subject like Boston’s Catholic priest child sex abuse scandal, but the host of nominations and wins Spotlight earned over this year’s award season should clue you in: director Tom McCarthy absolutely nailed it.
The star-studded cast helps, getting you invested in the hard-working team of Boston Globe investigative journalists right from the off. Michael Keaton, Liev Schreiber and Mark Ruffalo steal the show, but there are great performances from Stanley Tucci and Rachel McAdams too.
It’s difficult to watch in places, but entirely engrossing and totally worth sticking through to the end.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Put those interminable Hobbit movies to one side for a moment and remember that there was a time when Peter Jackson’s bloated, big budget Tolkien adaptations were actually enjoyable. And this, the first Lord of the Rings movie, is proof positive. Even if you detest any film that features the prancing of pointy-eared little folk, there’s plenty to admire here: the sheer craftsmanship Jackson and his team employed in creating Middle-earth and its denizens, not to mention wrangling Tolkien’s unevenly-paced narrative into something resembling a brisk film (even though it clocks in at just under three hours). It might be pure escapism, but it’s beautifully done.