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.
Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola, 2003) - Bill Murray’s career plateaued in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, but he experienced a stunning career revival in Wes Anderson’s breakout film, Rushmore (1997). Ever since, Murray’s had serious indie cred, especially since working with Anderson on almost all of his movies, but his best performance by far in his entire career is in the indie dramedy Lost in Translation. He plays a character overcome with neutered emotion. He’s alienated from his foreign environment in Japan, from his family back home, but, worst of all, from himself. While there, he meets a young and beautiful recent graduate named Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), who shares his soul, and, over the course of the film, they develop one of the greatest onscreen relationships of modern cinema. This is the film that captures what it means to be lonely, and even supplies how to synthesize an antipode.
Marathon Man (John Schlesinger, 1976) - After seeing Captain America: The Winter Soldier (my review here), check out the movie its genre and opening scene borrows from. Marathon Man is one of the definitive paranoia suspense thrillers from the 1970s, an era stricken with distrust of authority and where heroes favored smarts over brawn. The film centers on Thomas Levy (played with winning charisma by Dustin Hoffman at the top of his game), a history Ph.D. candidate out to prove his father was falsely accused of corroborating with the Russians during the second Red Scare (i.e. the McCarthy era). When his spy brother unexpectedly shows up on his doorstep, he soon becomes entangled in a murderous plot of international intrigue. Naturally, nothing is what it seems. It also features one of the most famous torture scenes in cinema history, and justly so, even if it doesn’t have quite the nerve-pinching tenacity it did in ‘76.
Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme, 1991) - At every possible opportunity, I try to bring awareness to NBC’s criminally under-seen horror/drama Hannibal. Mads Mikkelsen plays the title character, and he does it so well many, including me, think he might indeed surpass the legendary Sir Anthony Hopkins in the role. Nevertheless, even if revisiting Silence of the Lambs doesn’t lead to checking out Hannibal, few films are more rewatchable. Maybe it’s the innate vulnerability in Jodie Foster’s performance as Clarice —which, by the way, is every bit as timeless as Hopkins as Hannibal— that draws us in, since it’s so easy to project ourselves into her light-footed shoes. Many forget the film’s most famous and influential scene has nothing to do with everyone’s most cherished cannibal. In the action finale of the film, Clarice steps with nearly paralyzed precision through a basement engulfed in total darkness as she’s stalked with night vision goggles. Lambs might not be as scary as it was in the early 90s, but it’s every bit as intense.
Gattaca (Andrew Niccol, 1997) - Often cited as one of the better and smartest science fiction movies ever made, or at least the best you’re likely to see screened in school, Gattaca is about eugenics. The film takes place in a future that, almost ten years after its release, we see is faster approaching than ever. The core premise is this: the wealthy can afford to manipulate the genes of their children, making them perfect in every way. Those who aren’t wealthy cannot. Ethan Hawke plays Vincent, a conventionally born son to a wealthy family. He has a diatribe of symptoms destined to undermine his lofty ambition of being a space pilot. What does he do? He fakes it. He conjures up a detailed and incredibly clever plan to convince everyone he meets he was born through genetic manipulation, and his story becomes a springboard for powerful ideas that, hopefully, promote engaging post-viewing discussion. Gattaca is the rare science fiction film that puts the science in science fiction, and it becomes more relevant every single day.
Charade (Stanley Donen, 1963) - In many ways, Charade is a sequel in spirit to Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, where mistaken identities become as common as Cary Grant’s delightful quips. Audrey Hepburn plays Reggie, a woman who discovers upon returning home all her possessions have seemingly vanished. She learns her husband has been murdered, all in the pursuit of some secretive goods he ostensibly carried. The men that murdered her husband are now out to get her, convinced she has the prize. To the rescue is Peter Joshua, played by a Cary Grant who’s never had more fun to watch. He sets out to “get to the bottom of this.” The plot is splendidly breezy, and the film famously dips between the genres of romantic comedy, suspense/thriller, and full on slapstick without skipping a beat. The rapport between Grand and Hepburn is legendary, and when they share the screen (all the time) sparks jump off the screen. Charade is simply one of the most charming films ever made.
The Terminator (James Cameron, 1984) - When a truck driver with a history as an artist began working with Roger Corman, a famous artisan of all things B-movie, he learned how to light fast, shoot fast, and produce stellar special effects on a near non-existent budget. A few years later, he used those same tools to craft one of the most ambitious debut films of all time, The Terminator (It’s his second film if the historical purist in you insists Piranha II: The Spawning was his debut). Though sometimes brushed aside as mindless though incredibly visceral action, when you take a look at the Terminator, you realize its astounding ambition. It has a sprawling narrative with four story arcs overlapping one another simultaneously. It’s as though nobody told Cameron to take it easy and play it safe on his first real film. The Terminator outclasses most action films then or today in most categories. It’s a subversive feminist text, an ingenious display of low-budget special effects, a rousing action film, and a multi-layered plot all in one. Seeing Arnold Schwarzenegger in his first iconic part is a thrill, too.
For a Few Dollars More (Sergio Leone, 1965) - Finishing up Sergio Leone’s classics (the three others were featured in previous editions of Netflix Picks) is the second film of the Dollars Trilogy. This is the first of Leone’s spaghetti westerns to feature an original plot, and, no offense to his adaptation of Yojimbo (A Fistful of Dollars), but it structures the story with the dangerous gusto of the western in a way the frame of Yojimbo never could. The plot follows two outlaws, Clint Eastwood’s man with no name, here called Manco, and Colonel Douglas Mortimer, called Man in Black. The film follows their partnerships and betrayals —both plural — and when they share the screen, it sizzles with style. The inflated violence is back, here on a marvelous scale, and it’s the most easily enjoyed of all Leone’s movies.