Netflix Picks is a feature published the first and third* Wednesday of the month with a list of seven films currently available for streaming on Netflix and the reasons for why you should watch them.
* The regular schedule will resume by February.
Side Effects (2012) - Director Steven Soderbergh is one of the most important and influential men who have worked in film for the last 20 years. From getting started with Sex, Lies, and Videotape all the way up to Erin Brockovich, Out of Sight, Ocean’s 11, and the critically acclaimed Traffic, he boasts an impressive filmography we’ll miss being added to. Yep, he’s retiring, and Side Effects was his final motion picture (technically this isn’t true, Behind the Candelabra was, but that’s a TV movie in the U.S.). He’s one of the rare filmmakers that proved a great director can move between Hollywood blockbusters and art house dramas with ease. That alone makes Side Effects essential viewing, but it’s also a darn good film. Side Effects is a morality play on our current societal fixation on drugs told through the lens of an efficient psychological thriller, helped immensely by rising actress Rooney Mara. Timely, relevant, and well crafted, it’s very enjoyable.
Face/Off (1997) - Modern audiences have all but forgotten Hong Kong director John Woo’s particularly branch of stylistic action mayhem, but Face/Off is a nice start to getting reacquainted. This dates back to when Nicolas Cage was a certified A-list action star, and he goes toe-to-toe with a John Travolta, who has never had a better time. The obvious joke is both stars literally face-off in the film, exchanging punches as much as they trade their actual faces. It’s a ludicrous premise for a ludicrous film, but the two stars are having such a good time, it’s impossible not to join them. For those expecting a hard-edged nail biter, look elsewhere. This is campy and outrageous fun.
Double Indemnity (1944) - This one’s got to be a no brainer, right? Long held as the definitive noir movie of cinema history, this is one of the single most must-see films ever put to celluloid. No hyperbole: it’s excellent. It’s got all the tropes: The hard-boiled private detective embroiled in web of intrigue, murder, and, most dangerous of all, women, the downtrodden, pissed off voiceover, the iconic typewriter punching away the rooted demons of mankind. Billy Wilder’s noir masterpiece is one for the ages. It’s what comes to mind when somebody says “Classic Hollywood.” Barbara Stanwyck plays one of the definitive femme fatales, and few women have ever been as alluring. It’s one of the sexiest and most viscous pictures ever made.
Flight (2012) - After staying in animated hell with Polar Express, Beowolf, and A Christmas Carol, the loved director of Forrest Gump and Back to the Future has finally returned to live action. Robert Zemeckis’ Flight was largely ignored at the end of the year awards, which is a shame, since Denzel Washington gives one of his best performances to date as a struggling alcoholic. It’s a compelling, and, more unnervingly, accurate character study that doubles as a survey of addiction. Hollywood filmmaking is rarely this deep, and when met with the gripping spectacle of a plane crash, maybe the best ever in film, you get a singularly compelling motion picture.
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) - Most viewers know British cult director Guy Ritchie from the Sherlock Holmes films starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, but few know how he got his start. It was a string of heavily stylized irreverent and uproarious small-time gangster flicks, all of them a wicked good time. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels is the first and many wager the best of his gangster films, having met significant critical acclaim around the world. Also worth noting is that a fairly young Jason Statham roams the sidelines years before he exploded with a career of B action movies. The plot is deceivingly simple at first: a card game goes wrong and all channels of the London Underground clamor to make good. It’s the smartest type of stupid fun, and I dare you to not have a hysterical time watching.
Enter the Void (2009) - Make no mistake, this isn’t a great film. A full half an hour could be shaved off and nobody would miss a thing. The plot isn’t thick and the characters aren’t deep, but despite these serious issues, it’s never less than jaw dropping. Singing to the pulse of a rockin’ synth-beat soundtrack and burning your retinas with a constant stream of neon colors, it’s a dazzling sensory experience frankly unlike any other. Most of Enter the Void is told from the first person point of view of a ghost, giving the camera wings to fly around the colorful cityscapes of Tokyo. The camera zooms through the streets, buildings, and walls: nowhere is private. We’re given an arousing journey of psychology, spiritualism, and sex (so much sex, and Boardwalk Empire’s Paz de la Huerta has never been more alluring). There’s no film like it and likely never will be. Psychedelic and tantalizing, the two and a half hour running time is worth it.
In Bruges (2008) - I have to admit this is very much a selfish inclusion on my part. In Bruges is one of my favorite comedies in the last ten years. It’s also a critic and audience favorite, so I think that justifies forgiveness on your part. Martin McDonagh’s excellent black comedy is the rare film that uses comedy to enhance the drama while the drama enhances the comedy in equal turn. It’s a perfectly balanced script, and the precise, delicate direction enhances the effect. It has some indisputably hilarious moments often framed by genuine loss and mourning. Big questions not only aren’t shied away from, they’re embraced, and as the film ends viewers will have much to contemplate. The philosophical bent underscores the whole film without ever robbing it of its constant hilarity, and, man, is it funny. Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson (the Harry Potter fans will recognize him as the actor behind Alastor Moody) give their two best and most layered performances, and when Ralph Fiennes is on screen with them, expect to hold your sides. I love this film and most others do too. See it.