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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.
Frank (Lenny Abrahamson, 2014)
For fans of quirky, indie, self-aware cinema, look no further than Frank. Michael Fassbender plays the titular character, donning an intentionally absurd American accent and wears—yes—a paper mache mask the entire movie. The mask resembles Hey Arnold. The off-beat humor might rub some people the wrong way, but for fans of Wes Anderson, Noah Baumbach, or for those just looking for something off the beaten path, there’s treasures to be enjoyed. The plot: Domhnall Gleeson, who you either saw earlier this year in Ex Machina or you will in December in Star Wars, is a hungry not amazing musician (in the same sense Eli Cash in Royal Tenenbaums is especially not a genius), who teams up with Frank and his bizzaro group of musicians. Egos get in the way, and hints of betrayal surface. Frank tilts from a strange music movie comedy into a deep study on narcissism and loneliness, and it gets unusually affecting in the final minutes as a result. When people say a movie’s a gem, this is the kind they mean.
The Sixth Sense (M. Night Shyamalan, 1999)
An absolute classic, not only because of its lethally focused storytelling (it comes in at less than two hours), but for it’s constant presence on Cable in the intermittent years from ’99 to now. So you’ve probably seen Shyamalan's most famous, and probably best film (Unbreakable gives it a run for its money), but with his upcoming movie The Visit hitting cinemas this week, there’s no better time to return to The Sixth Sense. Unlike most other ‘90s horror movies, this ghost story is dramatic storytelling first, scares second, making it not only a ride that is emotionally involving but one that elevates the suspense in kind. Bruce Willis brilliantly plays against type as a child psychologist, and the strong acting by Haley Joel Osment lends credibility to what otherwise might’ve been outlandish supernatural storytelling. A terrific feature that hasn’t aged a day.
Drug War (Johnnie To, 2013)
Film favorite Quentin Tarantino has named Hong Kong cinema director Johnnie To as one of his favorite directors working anywhere in the world, and it’s easy to see why. Carefully staged action scenes, closer to high-art ballets of bloodshed and gangster violence than Michael Bay’s ‘chaos cinema’, and lengthy dialogue scenes that are as intense and hard-hitting as the action, are Tarantino staples. Drug War is a masterful showcase for both. To’s movies haven’t blown up in the States like some other foreign action directors—like John Woo’s Hard Boiled, but Drug War is razor-sharp, a taut thriller with wide commercial appeal that never expects the viewer to be stupid. Hints of The Departed lend the story an accessibility some might not expect, involving undercover cops and drug lord mobsters in a complex web of “who can you trust?”, and following all the individual threads is as much a thrill as the more visceral sequences.
Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy, 2014)
Number 3 on my own top ten list for 2014, Gilroy’s slimy directorial debut is a scathing, brilliant, surprisingly funny indictment not just of the media but of the people who watch it. Lou Bloom is a psychopathic entrepreneur with his eyes set on the world of big news coverage, “If it bleeds, it leads,” and he creeps from graphic car wrecks to terrifying home invasions with the same wide-eyed excitement that a child might greet Santa. What’s his job? His is the profession nicknamed “Nightcrawler”, those who capture crime scene footage and sell it to news agencies. The film acts first and foremost as an nighttime L.A. thriller, lensed by genius cinematographer Roger Elswit, and rivals classics like Network for both power and relevancy. Jake Gyllenhaal’s central performance was my favorite from last year, playing Bloom with overeager fright and urgency. A masterpiece of a movie.
Up in the Air (Jason Reitman, 2009)
George Clooney’s dry charm turned melancholic in this genre-breaking rom-com about a man who travels the country to fire people. On one hand, Up in the Air operates as millennial parable, where big business companies hire Clooney to fire employees, an apt metaphor for how we compartmentalize drama and avoid confrontation in this socially digital age. It’s also funny, fast, and generally well-observed, a movie that operates on multiple levels so as to suit multiple moods. It also has rare credit of being one of the first movies to introduce us to Anna Kendrick, here playing a career-focused woman still learning the ropes. It’s one of the best movies of 2009, and its social relevancy hits home in a way few recent movies can.
The Great Escape (John Sturges, 1963)
A three-hour long movie is a big ask of any genre, with any cast, or awarded any acclaim. But in the case of The Great Escape, Steve McQueen led a legendary ensemble of James Garner, Richard Attenborough, James Donald, and Charles Bronson (to name a few), who go some way to help Struges to make this prison break classic one of the most rousing, entertaining, downright jubilant movies of all time. In a word: FUN. The cast’s chemistry is as iconic as the actors themselves, who together make a credible team with a level of believable camaraderie rarely seen outside of lifelong best friends. The World War II setting makes this an unusual period for an elaborate heist-style prison break of dividing different roles to different people, deriving super-charged suspense out of the act-of-God inevitable mishaps that intrude and risk foiling the whole plan. Pop the popcorn and dim the lights, this is three hours of big screen bliss.
The Aviator (Martin Scorsese, 2004)
Heart throb, star, and, despite what slews of internet memes say about his lack of an Oscar, one of the best actors of his generation, Leonardo DiCaprio got his first dream project made in ’04 with cinematic master Martin Scorsese at the helm. It’s a biopic of eccentric and obsessive-compulsive aviation man Howard Hughes, who, as history tells it, also had a big influence on Hollywood—Cate Blanchett gives a shimmering performance as Katharine Hepburn. It’s rousing cinema with a fascinating subject who’s attracted multiple directors to tell his story—Christopher Nolan famously scrapped his Hughes project once Scorsese’s was put into production. DiCaprio’s performance as was his biggest acting hurrah way back in 2004, and it’s held up as some of his finest work. Dated CGI, fine cinema.
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