Hidden Gems: The best films you (probably) haven’t seen on Netflix UK
Matthew Turner | On 20, Feb 2022
Stuck with that tricky “What should I watch next on Netflix?” decision? With the streaming service adding new titles all the time, it’s increasingly difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff. Fortunately, help is at hand, as there’s nothing we love more at VODzilla.co than throwing some great film recommendations your way. Here then, are Netflix UK’s best hidden gems.
This list will be updated regularly to reflect new releases and removals.
The Summit of the Gods (2021)
Directed by Patrick Imbert (The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales), this animated mountaineering drama is based on the best-selling manga of the same name. It tells the story of Fukamachi, a young Japanese journalist who obsessively pursues reclusive mountain climber Habu Joji, in the hope that a camera Habu found on Everest might reveal whether George Mallory really became the first man to scale the summit in 1924. Thematically rich, gripping and stunningly beautiful, this is a moving story that perfectly captures the psychology of its subjects. It’s a testament to Imbert’s gripping direction that, whenever anyone loses their grip on a mountainside, you gasp just as hard as you would if you were watching a live-action documentary.
The Hunt (2020)
Craig Zobel’s highly entertaining satirical thriller was beset by bad luck on its way to the big screen. Hopefully it will find the audience it deserves on Netflix UK, because this is a treat from start to finish, packed with exciting action, jet-black humour and some fun gory moments. Betty Gilpin delivers a powerhouse performance as a blue collar “deplorable” (read: Trump supporter) who wakes up in a clearing with 12 strangers and quickly discovers they’re being hunted by liberal elites for sport. To say any more would be to spoil the film’s inspired twists and turns – suffice it to say that the witty and knowing script challenges your expectations and assumptions while serving up tasty genre thrills.
Wild Bill (2011)
In a just and fair world, Dexter Fletcher’s wonderful directorial debut would have been deluged with awards attention back in 2012. Charlie Creed-Miles delivers a terrific performance as “Wild” Bill Hayward, an ex-con who gets out of jail after an eight year stretch to discover that his two young sons – 15 year-old Dean (Will Poulter) and 11 year-old Jimmy (Sammy Williams) – have been abandoned by their mother and left to fend for themselves. Meanwhile, Bill’s ex-cohorts (Leo Gregory and Neil Maskell) are keen to draw him back into a life of crime, forcing Bill to take a stand or risk going back to jail and losing his kids. Essentially, this a council estate Western fused with an emotionally engaging father-son story and the brilliantly written script dovetails those two elements in a way that feels natural and organic. Gripping, heart-warming and laugh-out-loud funny, this is one of the best British films of the past decade.
Haifaa Al Mansour’s warmly emotional coming-of-age drama earned the distinction of being the first feature film made in Saudi Arabia – as well as the first made by a female Saudi director. Talented newcomer Waad Mohammed plays Wadjda, a spirited 10 year-old girl in Riyadh who schemes to earn money so she can buy a bicycle and race her friend Abdullah (Abdullrahman Al Gohani), even though girls aren’t allowed to ride bikes. The script is excellent, cleverly pulling off the subtly provocative feat of telling a wider political story within a coming-of-age context, without ever resorting to heavy-handed preachiness or sugary sentimentality. This is worthy of a place alongside the very best kid-with-a-bike movies, such as De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves and, yes, the Dardennes’ The Kid With a Bike.
Kindred Spirits (2019)
Lucky McKee’s delightfully twisted thriller is a genre-savvy throwback to the sort of Fill-In-The-Blank From Hell thrillers that were all the rage in the 1990s. Thora Birch and Sasha Frolova play Chloe and Nicole, a mother and teenage daughter whose lives are upended by the arrival of Sadie (Caitlin Stasey), Chloe’s troubled younger sister, who soon turns out to have a deadly agenda. Stasey delivers a knock-out performance, casually flipping from charming and fun to downright monstrous in a heartbeat, while Birch (in a welcome comeback role) is convincing and compassionate as Chloe. Packed with fun film references, the film is further heightened by an atmospheric score and strong visual design, while McKee ratchets up the tension to enjoyable effect.
Winter’s Bone (2010)
Before Jennifer Lawrence was Katniss Everdeen, she was Ree Dolly in this compelling slice of country noir based on the novel by Daniel Woodrell. Set in the remote Missouri Ozarks, the film sees 17-year-old Ree stirring up trouble when she tries to track down her bail-skipping father before the courts seize her family home. Structured like a traditional detective story and featuring an Oscar-nominated performance from Lawrence, this is a thoroughly absorbing thriller that exerts a tight emotional grip.
Outside In (2017)
Jay Duplass (who co-wrote the script with director Lynn Shelton) stars as Chris, a 38 year old man who returns to his home town of Granite Falls, Washington after serving 20 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Estranged from his younger brother (Ben Schwartz), Chris has become fixated on forging a romantic relationship with his former high school teacher, Carol (Edie Falco), who helped campaign for his release. Meanwhile, Carol struggles with her stagnant marriage and becomes resentful of Chris’ burgeoning friendship with her teenage daughter (Kaitlyn Dever). Beautifully understated and superbly acted, this is a stirring smalltown out-of-prison drama that ranks with Shelton’s best work.
Mr Roosevelt (2017)
The debut feature from writer-director-star Noël Wells (Master of None), this charming indie comedy centres on twenty-something Emily (Wells), a would-be comedian who returns from Los Angeles to her home town of Austin, Texas when her ex-boyfriend Eric (Nick Thune) informs her that the cat they once shared is very sick. Upon arrival, Emily is shocked to discover that Eric is now co-habiting with his new girlfriend Celeste (Britt Lower), to whom she takes an instant dislike. Wells proves a real talent to watch, both in front of and behind the camera – the script is frequently funny and there’s a real feel for the time and place. Above all, the film is worth seeing for a white hot supporting turn from Daniella Pineda (as a waitress-slash-musician who befriends Emily) and for Wells’ inspired impressions of Holly Hunter and Kristin Wiig.
This low-key indie romance-slash-crime caper has a huge amount of charm, thanks to director / co-writer Adam Leon’s lightness of touch and lovely performances from its two leads. Callum Turner plays Danny, a naive young New Yorker whose older brother (Michal Vondel) coerces him into carrying out a shady bag-swap deal at a subway stop. Danny’s designated getaway driver is Ellie (Grace Van Patten), who’s agreed to take part in order to get dodgy friend Scott (Mike Birbiglia) off her back. When Danny messes up and snatches the wrong bag, the pair frantically try to correct his mistake, growing closer in the process. The central crime may appear ridiculously contrived (its true nature is only revealed later), but this has real heart at its centre and the chemistry between Turner and Van Patten is genuinely touching.
Little Boxes (2016)
Rob Meyer’s feel-good indie comedy-drama stars Melanie Lynskey and Nelsan Ellis as Gina and Mack, an interracial New York couple who move to an overwhelmingly white suburban neighbourhood in Washington state with their 11-year-old son, Clark (Armani Jackson). The plot revolves around each member of the family attempting to forge connections in their new community, with exquisitely awkward results, particularly in the case of poor Clark, whose precocious new friend Ambrosia (a scene-stealing Oona Laurence) immediately decides she’s going to make him her boyfriend. All three leads are utterly charming, sparking likeable chemistry with each other, as well as their various co-stars, while the subtle script squeezes in various points about privilege, presumption and prejudice alongside plentiful low-key laughs.
Love & Friendship (2016)
If there were any justice in the universe, Kate Beckinsale would have been Oscar-nominated for her career-best turn in this deliciously witty Jane Austen adaptation from writer-director Whit Stilman (with whom Beckinsale previously made The Last Days of Disco, alongside Love & Friendship co-star Chloe Sevigny). Beckinsale’s seductive and manipulative Lady Susan schemes to win the heart of a wealthy bachelor (Xavier Samuel) originally intended as a suitor for her own daughter. Stilman’s script crackles with delectable dialogue and there’s a wonderful, film-stealing comic performance from Tom Bennett (as chuckle-headed aristocrat Sir James Martin), whose line readings alone are a constant delight.
Shimmer Lake (2017)
Written and directed by Oren Uziel, this clever crime thriller unfolds in reverse order over the course of a week, as a small town Sheriff (Benjamin Walker) tries to get to the bottom of a bank heist that’s gone horribly wrong. The strong cast includes reliable character actors such as Rainn Wilson (as the Sheriff’s ne’er-do-well brother), Ron Livingston, Rob Corddry and John Michael Higgins, while Narcos’ Stephanie Sigman impresses as a key figure in the mystery. Uziel clearly knows his way around a tricksy thriller and he ensures that his reverse-time gimmick has a satisfying pay-off that rewards close attention.
Co-directed by Éric Summer and Éric Warin, this French-Canadian animation (known as Leap! on its US release) is surprisingly charming, despite its slightly rocky start. Set in the 1880s, it centres on Felicie (voiced by Elle Fanning), an orphan girl who flees rural Brittany for Paris, where she passes herself off as her bullying rival and gains a place as a student at the Paris Opera Ballet. The story hits all the expected notes, but it’s enhanced considerably by some gorgeously detailed production design (making strong visual use of an under-construction Paris), likeable characters and lively animation that pays close attention to authentic ballet moves.
Written and directed by Onur Turkel, this acerbic, jet-black satire is unlike anything you’ve seen before. Sandra Oh (Killing Eve) and Anne Heche star as a pair of former college friends who get into a vicious, life-changing fistfight after running into each other at a party. From there, the film gets progressively darker and stranger – suffice it to say there are more fights to come, as the cleverly structured story goes to some extremely dark places, with both actors delivering fully committed performances. The fights themselves are superbly choreographed and given an extra wallop by some punchy sound design and some inspired soundtrack choices. Outrageous, shocking and weirdly moving, this is a cult movie waiting to happen. (Read our full review)
Carrie Pilby (2016)
Based on the novel by Caren Lissner and directed by Susan Johnson, this utterly charming comedy-drama stars Bel Powley as Carrie Pilby, a socially awkward, highly intelligent 19 year-old who begrudgingly takes the advice of her therapist (an excellent Nathan Lane) and attempts to tick a few simple goals off a list, such as going on a date, making a friend and doing something that made her happy as a child. Powley’s performance here is every bit as assured as her turn in The Diary of a Teenage Girl, consistently unearthing unexpected and touching layers in what could have been just the standard quirky girl performance. (She also nails the rather specific accent, perfectly capturing a Londoner who’s been raised in New York). In addition, the dialogue is often very funny and there’s strong comic support from Vanessa Bayer (as an over-sharing co-worker) and Jason Ritter as Carrie’s blind date.
The textbook definition of an under-the-radar gem, this unsettling found footage horror stars co-writer-director Patrick Brice as a videographer who answers a Craigslist ad for a one-day job. When he arrives at his remote mountain town destination he finds that the creepy client, Josef (co-writer Mark Duplass), has a series of increasingly unusual requests, and he begins to suspect that all is not what it seems. Effectively a two-hander, the film is heightened by an appropriately tense chemistry between Brice and Duplass, while the clever script finds some interesting ways to pay off the found footage conceit. Read our full review.
The Edge of Seventeen (2016)
Destined to be a teen classic, this heartfelt comedy marks a brilliant debut for writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig. Hailee Steinfeld stars as Nadine, an anxiety-ridden high school outsider whose life is plunged into chaos when her BFF Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) starts dating her older brother Darian (Blake Jenner). The witty script skilfully subverts expectations, cleverly playing on echoes of previous troubled teen movies (eg. Ghost World, The Diary of a Teenage Girl), while Steinfeld is an utter joy as Nadine, finding deep sympathy for the character even when we disapprove of her behaviour. Moving, laugh-out-loud funny and packed with great scenes and dialogue, this is a treat from start to finish.
Debut director Houda Benyamina won the Camera d’Or at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival for this superb crime drama-slash-coming-of-ager that plays like a cross between La Haine and Girlhood. Newcomers Oulaya Amamra and Déborah Lukumuena star as a pair of 15 year-old best friends who decide that the fastest way out of their run-down, outskirts-of-Paris neighbourhood lies in going to work for their local drug dealer. Benyamina draws terrific performances from her two young leads, while her stylish direction (which extends to some exceptional sound design work) marks her out as an exciting new talent to watch. Read our full review
Love and Other Drugs (2010)
Part raunchy rom-com and part disease-of-the-week movie, this engaging true-life drama is based on Jamie Reidy’s 1990 drug rep expose Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as a smooth-talking pharmaceutical rep who meets his match when he falls for sharp-tongued firecracker Maggie (Anne Hathaway), only to discover that she’s suffering from stage-one Parkinson’s disease. The two leads have smoking hot chemistry and the witty script skilfully avoids the expected nosedive into mawkishness, instead presenting a refreshingly unconventional (by rom-com standards) relationship and asking some provocative questions along the way. It’s further heightened by a top-notch comic supporting cast that includes Josh Gad, Oliver Platt, Judy Greer and Hank Azaria.
What Happened to Monday (2017)
This dystopian sci-fi thriller stars Noomi Rapace as seven identical sisters (named after the days of the week) who’ve spent their lives in hiding, taking it in turns to pose as one woman in the outside world, because the authoritarian state has outlawed siblings due to overpopulation. Director Tommy Wirkola skilfully blends impressive world-building with thrilling, fast-paced action sequences and compelling character development, which unfolds in a series of fun twists and turns. To that end, Rapace delivers seven great performances and there are strong supporting turns from both Willem Dafoe (as their father) and Glenn Close as the sinister head of the Child Allocation Bureau.
Saint Frances (2020)
This utterly captivating indie comedy-drama is one of the very best films of 2020. Kelly O’Sullivan writes and stars as Bridget, a directionless 34 year old woman who takes a job as a nanny to six-year old Frances (Ramona Edith Williams), the rambunctious daughter of a lesbian couple (Charin Alvarez and Lily Mojekwu) who are deep in preparation for the birth of their new baby. Directed by O’Sullivan’s partner Alex Thompson, the film takes a refreshingly casual, no-nonsense approach to the female experience, effortlessly normalising such previously taboo subjects as menstruation, abortion and post-natal depression, while telling its touching story with warmth and humour. Rounded off with pitch-perfect performances from O’Sullivan and Williams, this is an utter joy from start to finish. Bump it right to the top of your Netflix queue.
Written and directed by Matt Palmer, this cracking thriller won the Michael Powell Award for best new British feature at the 2018 Edinburgh Film Festival and promptly went straight to Netflix. It stars Jack Lowden (Dunkirk) and Martin McCann (The Survivalist) as two best friends who head to a remote village in the Scottish Highlands for a hunting trip. After a tragic accident, the pair decide to cover it up, rather than reporting it to the authorities, leading to a tense situation with the increasingly suspicious villagers. Palmer’s impressive direction ensures the film grips like a vice, as the unbearable suspense gradually descends into sickening horror. A must-see for genre fans. (Read our full review – or click here to read our interview with director Matt Palmer.)
Fish Tank (2009)
Beautifully written British drama from director Andrea Arnold (Red Road), starring then-newcomer Katie Jarvis (who has gone on to play Hayley Slater in EastEnders) as Mia, an angry young teenager whose life changes when her flighty mother (Kierston Wareing) brings home a new, charismatic boyfriend called Connor (Michael Fassbender), who may or may not be a wrong’un. Jarvis is sensational as Mia (aside from her knockout performance, she has some great dance moves) and there’s terrific support from Fassbender, while Arnold’s stunning direction ensures that the story is by turns heart-in-your-mouth suspenseful, laugh-out-loud funny and deeply moving. An extraordinary, unforgettable film.
Your Name (2016)
Body-swap comedy meets sci-fi romance in this utterly charming anime from Japanese writer-director Makoto Shinkai. The plot centres on two Japanese teenagers – small-town high-school girl Mitsuha (Mone Kamishiraishi) and Tokyo boy Taki (Ryûnosuke Kamiki) – who find themselves inexplicably waking up in each other’s bodies several times a week. After finding inventive ways to communicate, the pair begin an unconventional romance, but their happiness is threatened by an imminent comet-related disaster. Shinkai’s genre-blending pays off beautifully, with a touching and inventive story that’s consistently surprising, deeply moving and frequently very funny. It’s also beautifully animated, with a level of detail that takes your breath away.
Directed by Alex Holmes, this powerful, moving documentary centres on Tracy Edwards, the British sailor who made history in 1989 by skippering the first all-female crew in the Whitbread Round the World yacht race. Combining terrific archive footage with present day to-camera interviews, Holmes tells a gripping story that documents not just the challenges of the round-the-world race itself, but Edwards and her crew’s uphill struggle against institutionalised sexism and a shockingly hostile media. Their glass-ceiling-shattering achievement was truly inspirational, and you’ll be hard-pressed not to come away from this with tears in your eyes.