Netflix is the multiplex now, and it feels like a bit of a gift every time the service rolls out a new original movie direct to our living rooms. In July I was enthusiastic about getting to see “The Old Guard” and “Da 5 Bloods” in their “first runs.” Both were made exclusively for Netflix, and both feature pedigrees I’m inclined to favor: Charlize Theron giving, again, everything she has in an action thriller; and Spike Lee diving into the legacy of the Vietnam War with an unhinged, transfixing performance by Delroy Lindo. But both left me unimpressed and worse, with this nagging feeling that the filmmakers just didn’t think it mattered that much whether they delivered the best possible movies they could. In fact, looking back over the past few years of Netflix’s original films, with the clear exception of Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma,” they almost all fit this description: flashy, star-studded productions that just didn’t feel fully committed to their own success. Forget it Jake, it’s Netflix.
To be fair maybe this isn’t just Netflix; maybe it’s just another kind of “new normal” we must all accept in this time where everything is up for revision. Take Tom Hanks in “Greyhound” (the first thing I’ve ever watched on Apple TV+). It’s a taut, efficient little wartime thriller and a fun ride, but at its edges—the perfunctory love story, the rough CG effects, the scant running time—it still felt lower stakes and less ambitious than a “true” feature film release. As a genre, direct-to-streaming is higher profile and frequently higher-budget than direct-to-video, but I’m not sure it’s proven yet that it can be higher quality.
I watched seventeen total movies in July. Here’s the full list.