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.
ParaNorman (2012) - People are so busy pontificating that we’re experiencing the golden age of television that many failed to notice we’re also in the golden age of the animated film. ParaNorman won’t be remembered in five years as one of the key films from the animated film format, and that’s a shame. ParaNorman is successfully funny, charming, and, at times, suitably spooky. The visuals are creative and finely brought to life in 3D stop motion, and the mise en scene is always striking. But what makes ParaNorman a great work is how it communicates complex adult themes with an elegant simplicity, not only unusual for the animated film, but unusual for films in general. The bottom line: a really great family film with intelligently drawn themes under the surface. I highly recommend it!
The Act of Killing (2013) - Like most film bloggers and critics, The Act of Killing made my top ten films of 2013, and deservingly so. This is the film that redefines the documentary from merely a download of information and onto the altar of art. When trying to describe Joshua Oppenheimer’s masterful work, one quickly runs out of superlatives. Revolutionary. Horrifying. Beautiful. Nightmarish. Surreal. The film follows a group of murderers from decades past, many of them with as many as a thousand deaths to their name. Here’s the kicker: they’re celebrated cultural icons, and, to them, it’s something e bragging about. They recreate their killings in their favorite movie genres, leading to several short films within the film. This is one of the scariest and most bizarre films of 2013, and I can’t recommend it enough.
A Fistful of Dollars (1964)- Last edition of Netlfix Picks I featured Once Upon a Time in the West. Now, I include the first of the Dollars Trilogy films, A Fistful of Dollars. It’s easy to take for granted what masterful director Sergio Leone did with this first film, but audiences around the world had never seen anything like it. A loose remake of the Akira Kurosawa classic Yojimbo, an outlaw walks into a town with two rival gangs fighting over control it. What follows is a satirical and subversive take on the American western. Leone’s tools include irreverent morally compromised heroes, over the top violence, and occasional parody. Leone hasn’t yet perfected his formula, but you feel his brilliance in every frame. Clint Eastwood’s first turn as ‘the Man with No Name’ is already undeniably classic, and his screen presence is like few other performances in cinema history. Hugely enjoyable, I love this film.
The King's Speech (2010) - While we’re in the throes of Oscar season, why not return to a best picture winner of a few years past? The King’s Speech defeated the (much better film) The Social Network and went on to become a blockbuster in its own right. Like Black Swan from the year before, it’s one of the few contemporary art house films to accumulate a massive global box office, making 400 million worldwide. Some have written The King’s Speech off as Oscar bait, but it’s a brutally unfair prognosis. The King’s Speech is delightful, and, despite the distracting and pretentious Dutch framing, is a singularly accessible period drama. Colin Firth grounds the film, and he’s an emotional powerhouse. It’s funny, too
The Boondock Saints (1999)- There’s two main camps on how to treat The Boondock Saints. One is that it’s immature trite, an adolescent pipe dream brought to the screen with every bit of the crude stupidity one might expect from low-brow fare. The other is that it’s a highly enjoyable actioner executed with vibrant gusto and tact. In a word: kickass. I’m somewhere in the middle, but regardless where you fall on the spectrum, it’s a must watch to see where you end up. The film follows two Irish hit men taking names and smashing skulls. It’s necessary viewing if only for its cultural impact, but since most seem to love it, you probably will too.
Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001) - Writer and director Alfonso Cuaron is about to win the Academy Award for direction for his latest opus Gravity, and that’s after he already won the Golden Globe, BAFTA, and Director’s Guild Award for his space thriller. Hopefully the hype around Gravity will cause mainstream audiences to revisit his first films, and the most important is Y Tu Mama Tambien. The narrative is deceptively simple, a coming of age story of two brothers traveling with a woman in her 20s. Pioneering long takes with longtime cinematographer Chivo (Children of Men, The Tree of Life) and engaging with the same political context in his later film Children of Men, Y Tu Mama Tambien sees Cuaron as an artist discovering his own voice. And, even in these early days, it is potent and loud.
Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan (1982) - Start by watching the classic Star Trek episode “Space Seed”, then dive into one of the greatest science fiction films ever made. No, scratch that. One of the best films of all time. The Wrath of Khan ranks with Hunt for the Red October as one of the greatest submarine war films of all time, but instead of a hulking Russian submarine, you have behemoth space cruisers duking it out between the stars. Khan has profound cultural significance, and audiences who haven’t seen it will recognize many iconic moments frequently quoted in pop culture. Khan sees Star Trek at its greatest peak, combining relevant political allegory with visceral thrills and genuine emotion. William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy give career best performances as their famous characters of Kirk and Spock, and it’s nothing less than required viewing. Plus, you’ll finally understand all those Seinfeld references.