Netflix can be a tricky landscape to navigate. Their “new releases” are stale at best and their film library is limited due to the high cost of rights to content. The same movies have a habit of popping up in my “suggestions for you” queue and often times I’ve already seen them. I realize that I watch more movies/television series than most but I still think this is a problem lots of subscribers encounter. After you’ve filtered through the mainstream movies and back episodes of your favorite shows, what’s next? I wanted to offer up some hidden gems I’ve found in the depths of Netflix and also share some upcoming release dates for new material on the streaming service. I’ve excluded Netflix’s original series which will be examined in a future post. Here are some selections that are a little more off the beaten path:
THE WAY (2003)
If you are in the mood for an uplifting and inspirational film, The Way is your ticket to a mini spiritual awakening. Martin Sheen stars as a grieving doctor whose son was killed on El Camino de Santiago (a pilgrimage on foot from France to Santiago de Compostela, Spain). Sheen plays a disenchanted workaholic who decides to honor his son’s memory by completing the journey for him. He takes up with an eclectic band of fellow travelers along the way—each person has their own motivations for completing the voyage but all of them are transformed by the comradery and experiences they share. The film can’t help but cause one to be introspective and self-reflective in the best of ways. The breathtaking european scenery is an added bonus.
This dark Norwegian fantasy/thriller was made in the “found footage/mockumentary” style made popular by films such as The Blair Witch Project (but with a much higher production value). It has become a cult favorite and it is a joyride from start to finish. Three student filmmakers set off to investigate some recent bear poaching incidents. Instead, what they uncover is a secret government operation to hunt down trolls in the Norwegian wilderness led by Otto Jespersen. The adventures that ensue are graphic, often comical and vastly entertaining.
This critically acclaimed British crime television series hits the ground running from the first episode. It centers on two detectives and the investigation of the murder of an 11 year old boy in a sleepy coastal town. Things are not what they seem and there are a fair abundance of twists in this mystery. Beyond the murder itself, the show’s examination of the town’s residents and the small town dynamics are multi-layered and intriguing, reminiscent of David Lynch’s classic show Twin Peaks. It’s not on this list but Top of the Lake is another excellent television mystery series worth streaming.
BROKEN FLOWERS (2005)
An indie flick starring Bill Murray should be all you need to know about this one. Murray stars as Don Johnston, an aging lothario who receives an anonymous letter informing him he has fathered an adult son who may now be searching for him. With the prodding of his neighbor, he embarks on a cross-country journey to track down past loves and perhaps solve the mystery. His exes are played by the likes of Sharon Stone, Tilda Swinton and Jessica Lange. These encounters take Don on a journey of self discovery, often with comedic results. Murray’s trademark wit is at its best here but with a deeper softer side that makes this film especially worthwhile.
Filmed in over 25 countries over the span of 5 years, this documentary is a cornucopia of visual delight and an examination of human existence. It is a collection of expertly filmed shots of sacred sites, nature, industry and more–all set to music (no words, crazy I know but it’s about the visual and emotional response). If you live in a state where it is legal, I miiiiight recommend indulging in some “recreational” activities before viewing. This film is truly an experience and if you have the attention span for it, it’s definitely worth the watch. It’s just overwhelmingly beautiful, I can honestly say that it moved me.
I GIVE IT A YEAR (2013)
So this film is mostly just light-hearted romantic fluff, but hey, we all need some of that from time to time right? I was honestly just looking to watch something mindless when I stumbled across this film and was so pleasantly surprised. There are plenty of dumb moments in this rom-com but there are definitely plenty of laugh out loud moments as well. It follows a newlywed couple who start out blissful but may not be able to survive the trials of their first year of marriage. Rose Byrne (of Bridesmaids fame) is always beautiful onscreen and I always find Stephen Merchant so underrated as well. Perfect for a friday night in with takeout.
When I found Heartburn, I was mostly just pissed I never knew a film starring both Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep existed…and a Nora Ephron film at that! Blasphemy. After I got over that fact, I settled into this drama-filled tale full of brutal honesty. Nicholson and Streep both play successful career-minded individuals who try and fit the mold of what happily ever after is. It turns out, nothing is ever as happy as it may seem. Heartbreak and betrayal are examined and the pain that comes between deciding to pick up the pieces or move on from a relationship. I enjoyed the candidness and honesty of this film. While it may inspire you to never get married, it will also inspire you to make spaghetti carbonara for your lover at 4 in the morning. Perhaps the only time I haven’t enjoyed watching good ‘ole Jack play a low-down dirty dog though—nobody messes with my Meryl!
PERFECT SENSE (2011)
Ok, so I may be guilty of watching anything that has Eva Green in it, I’ve had a lady crush on her since she played Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale. However, it was the premise of this film that truly roped me in. Green and Ewan McGregor play a doctor and a chef who fall in love as an epidemic spreads across the planet robbing humans of their sense of smell. At first isolated events, soon everyone becomes infected. Then with increasing speed, more outbreaks occur, each one taking another sense away from the earth’s population. I found this concept absolutely terrifying and that’s how the chaos plays out onscreen. The pair are an example of what we as human beings cling to when faced with losing our ability to perceive the world and our surroundings. I shudder to think.
THE TRIP TO ITALY (2014)
Both The Trip to Italy and its predecessor, The Trip are brilliant works of comedy. I just happened to enjoy the second film a little more, along with the gorgeous Italian scenery. The film follows two friends/rivals eating and drinking their way through Italy whilst engaging in the wittiest of banter. It sounds so simple but it is so rich with fantastic dialogue and surprisingly poignant moments concerning both men’s personal and prosessional lives. It will leave you practicing your Michael Caine impression and giggling for days to come.
A SINGLE MAN (2009)
I first saw this film at an independent theater. I loved it then and I love it now. Directed by Tom Ford, this film unsurprisingly oozes style. After a slow start, it dives into the examination of a gay English professor (played by Colin Firth) in 1960s LA struggling to cope with the death of his lover a year earlier. We start following him on what is a seemingly normal day, but we later realize he is planning his own suicide that evening. It is his interactions with various characters throughout this day that bring him to some new realizations. Firth’s haunting and effortless performance is the obvious highlight of this elegant film. Side note for the ladies: you will die over the makeup artistry in this movie.
THE GIANT MECHANICAL MAN (2012)
I have a soft spot for indie romantic movies. I think it’s because the characters are often flawed and the love stories feel less forced. Such is the case with this gem which stars Pam from the Office (ok fine, Jenna Fischer) and Chris Messina. Both of them are down on their luck and searching for someone who truly understands them. Messina works as a “living statue” and is disillusioned with society and its misguided values. They finally find kindred souls within one another but will they be able to survive societal and external pressure? I’m a big fan of emotional awkwardness onscreen (even if it makes me cringe) and this film is full of it.
HAPPY CHRISTMAS (2014)
I just love Anna Kendrick’s character in this movie, she is an absolute train wreck. And isn’t it always fun to watch a train wreck onscreen because it makes us all feel better about our own lives? Kendrick plays Jenny, a 20 something party girl who moves in with her brother and his family after a bad break-up. This obviously causes some friction within the home. The best scenes in this movie are between Kendrick and Melanie Lynsky, who plays her sister-in-law. Kendrick’s carefree spontaneous attitude help Lynsky to come out of her well-preserved shell. Other highlights include Jenny’s uncomfortable hook-ups with her pot-dealng boy toy and her funny repartee with her sassy friend (played by Lena Dunham).
I find it sad that more young people don’t watch or enjoy classic movies. If you haven’t seen it, Houseboat it is a great place to start. I often like to revisit classic films when I’m feeling disenchanted with life and need an injection of innocence. Sophia Loren has never been more alluring and Cary Grant turns on his signature stubborn charm. Sophia stars as a bored rich girl looking to assert her independence and she finds that opportunity taking on a nanny position with a widower and his three children aboard a run-down houseboat. The film explores the complexities of parenthood and love and how often the thing we need the most comes into our lives in unexpected packages.
ALL GOOD THINGS (2010)
i re-watched this film after watching HBO’s The Jinx (the film is loosely based on the Robert Durst story). If you can get past the fact that Ryan Gosling has never looked worse, this film is full of mystery and deception. Gosling plays David Marks, who was suspected of killing his wife (played by Kirsten Dunst) but was never put on trial for it. The film begins with their meeting and courtship and then later, her disappearance. Their marriage experiences difficulties due to differences in their backgrounds and upbringings. You can feel Dunst’s pain as she realizes that her husband has become someone completely different than the man she married. Years later, David is on trial for a separate murder and reveals more details complicating the mystery. Both the character of David Marks and the real life Robert Durst are enigmatic forces whose motives may never be understood but it sure makes for an intriguing film.
PERFUME: THE STORY OF A MURDERER (2006)
I love the twisted motive of the main character and serial killer, Jean Baptiste, in Perfume. Born with an unearthly gift to discern scent in 18th century France, he becomes obsessed with trying to capture the true essence of beauty in perfume form. After he figures out how to capture the elixir of a young beautiful woman, his obsession turns murderous and he begins stalking and murdering women in France to add to his collection of perfumes in order to create the ultimate scent. (fun fact: they are all gingers!) He becomes particularly infatuated with one such young aristocratic beauty who will be the final addition and crown jewel to his perfume (the heart of the perfume if you will). Her overprotective father is played by a kind Alan Rickman who has the city on high alert due to the recent murders. The film has dark and brooding undertones but is also able to successfully depict the allure of beauty where many films miss the mark. This movie comes alive on screen and really does involve all your senses— it’s musical score is beautiful and also a bit eerie. Random bonus: it contains probably the largest sex scenes I have ever seen.
MAY RELEASES ON NETFLIX
Available May 1 Beyond Clueless (2014) Jimi: All Is by My Side (2013) Legally Blonde (2001) Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde (2003) Longmire: Season 3 No No: A Dockumentary (2014) Shameless: Series 10 The Last Waltz (1978) The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio (2005) Underclassman (2015) Witnesses: Season 1 Available May 2 Lalaloopsy: Festival of Sugary Sweets (2015) LeapFrog Letter Factory Adventures: Amazing Word Explorers (2015) Available May 3 Anita (2013) D.L. Hughley: Clear (2014) Royal Pains: Season 6 Available May 5 A Few Best Men (2011) Available May 6 The Longest Week (2014) Available May 8 Grace & Frankie Puss in Boots: Season 1 (5 additional episodes) Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas (2013) Available May 9 Jinn (2014) The Liberator (2013) Available May 12 Extraterrestrial (2014) Fruitvale Station (2013) Magical Universe (2013) Available May 13 The Identical (2014) Available May 14 American Restoration (new collection) Counting Cars (new collection) Dance Moms (new collection) Duck Dynasty (new collection) Hoarders (new collection) Modern Marvels (new collection) The Universe (new collection) Available May 15 Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown: Season 4 CyberSeniors (2014) Dawg Fight (2015) Give Me Shelter (2014) Granite Flats: Season 1-3 Available May 16 First Period (2013) Available May 17 Tinker Bell and the Legend of the NeverBeast (2015) Available May 19 Before I Disappear (2014) Girlhood (2014) Zombeavers (2014) Available May 21 Between: Season 1 Available May 22 H20 Mermaid Adventures (2015) Inglourious Basterds (2009) Jen Kirkman: I’m Gonna Die Alone (And I Feel Fine) (2015) Richie Rich: Season 2 The Other One: The Long, Strange Trip of Bob Weir Transporter: The Series: Season 1 (2012) Available May 23 Antarctica: A Year on Ice (2013) The Boxtrolls (2014) Available May 24 Love and Honor (2013) Welcome to the Punch (2013) Available May 26 Graceland: Seasons 1-2 Available May 27 Before I Go to Sleep (2014) Available May 29 Hot Girls Wanted (2015) Mako Mermaids Season 3 HAPPY NETFLIXING, Y’ALL!