Netflix Picks is a feature with a list of seven films currently available for streaming on Netflix and the reasons for why you should watch them.
Star Trek: Into Darkness (JJ Abrams, 2013) - I had every intention of including a film as a hype builder for Christopher Nolan’s massively anticipated Interstellar (If the semi-mixed reaction has had any affect on me, it’s added excitement: the same should be true for you), but Netflix’s library is annoyingly lax with famous sci-fi titles. I’m coming up short, but JJ’s exciting second Trek is as close as we get. It may not be relevant to Interstellar, but it’s an early preview reel for what JJ has up his sleeve for the massively anticipated Star Wars Episode VII. The set pieces are enormous in both scale and vision, but most of all they are diverse and keep the film going at breakneck speed. Some have issues with the film’s logic, but, for the first time ever, I say “who cares?” Into Darkness is a blast from start to finish, and it grounds the human element in grand space vistas that, in my opinion, casts a spell of optimism come December 2015.
Trainspotting (Danny Boyle, 1996)- Boyle’s stunning low budget debut still holds up today, telling a story of addiction and loyalty that won’t ever lose relevance. Ewan Mcgregor gives a star making turn, and whoever saw him in this and thought “That’s the guy I want in Star Wars” should be commended for their audacity. This is a film of crime and urban poverty without ever taking its own subject too seriously despite the grit of the image and the starkness of its actual content. It’s a moving and sometimes funny film about heroin addicts trying to make it, and it’s as unforgettable today as it was in 1996.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Philip Kaufman, 1978)- Donald Sutherland had a hell of a run with horror, starring in not one but two horror classics only a few years apart. The first is the criminally under-seen but monumental Don’t Look Now (1973), the second being the eerie remake, Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It’s the sort of cerebral horror so often lacking today, with the plot and characters acting as philosophical counterpoints. Supporting roles by Leonard Nimoy and Jeff Goldblum extremely enjoyable. Body Snatchers is decidedly one of the only science fiction (and horror) films to offer a compelling argument for the villain, that villain being spores who learned to copy human beings. The fantastic Sutherland grounds a difficult role with humanity, making us instantly empathize with him. How he reacts is likely how many of us would. It’s haunting and iconic, with more than enough scares for a Halloween movie night.
Beginners (Mike Mills, 2010)- In between the horror movies and Halloween candy, watch Beginners. It’s a neo Woody Allen rom-com that wears its heart—and its proclivity for cleverness—on its sleeve. Possibly quirky to a fault but never less than endearing and fun, we follow Oliver Fields (Ewan McGregor) as he meets a gorgeous actress (played with delight by Mélanie Laurent) while his father (Christopher Plumber) comes out very late in life as a gay man. It’s amusing and relevant, and one of the finer films of its make of the last few years.
Night of the Living Dead (George A. Romero, 1968)- I’ll be honest, I don’t enjoy this film. Not only that, controversially, I enjoy its famous sequel only marginally more. These films do nothing for me, but that doesn’t mean they won’t for you. In actuality, I can quickly identify what makes them work: the zombie thriller exploits the hunter-hunted evolutionary kick horror movies often use. Images of the dead are innately unsettling, let alone the walking dead, or undead, and there’s no better place to start than the start. This is the original that truly kicked off the genre, and even if I don’t, millions find it terrifying. Watch it.
The Blair Witch Project (Eduardo Sánchez, Daniel Myrick, 1999) - Revolutionizing horror movies by being the trendsetter of the found footage film, the original my still be the best of this idiosyncratic sub-genre. The question of if the first person point of the view adds or subtracts realism is a valid one, but here it proves to be a hauntingly visceral experience. The film follows three student filmmakers who set out to document a famous ghoul, the blair witch, and as the opening card ominously forebodes, they were never heard of again. Even in 2014 it’s bone chillingly scary, although we’re desensitized to the style that made it change the genre.
Catching Fire (Francis Lawrence, 2013)- Improving upon its predecessor in almost every way, a bigger budget gave Lawrence the technical freedom to make a beautiful, scary, but believable world that resonates as the killer action crackles. The explosion of The Hunger Games’ popularity continues to expand, and with two films to go in the massively successful franchise left (BO), don’t expect it to for a few years. Including Catching Fire in this edition of Netflix Picks is more of a Let’s revisit the great second Hunger Games before Mockingjay than an ordinary recommendation, but it needn’t be included if the film wasn’t as thrilling or complete. With a fully realized vision led by what’s for my money Jennifer Lawrence’s second best performance, it’s a great sci-fi by any standard.
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