A big new chunk of movies gets added to Netflix every month—which is awesome—but with the constant glut of new content, how are you supposed to know which movies are worth your time and which are just going to force you to hit stop after twenty minutes? This column will give you a place to start. I had to hit stop on a lot of bad movies in order to get this list together, so you owe me.
Without further ado, here are 18 good movies to stream that were recently added to Netflix’s Watch-It-Right-This-Second service and should keep you entertained from start to finish. As always, click on the films’ titles in order to be taken to their Netflix page, where you can add them to your My List.
Pick of the Month:
Stories We Tell is a documentary from director Sarah Polley that’s largely about Sarah Polley. Or, it’s about her origins, at least. Okay, a lot of it is about her mom, and how it came to be that Polley’s parentage became a point of contention among her older siblings. Is her dad really her dad, or might it have been this other guy? What kind of a life did her mother lead for this to even be a question? How does Polley herself feel about the ambiguity, and how would her relationship with her father change if she found out they weren’t biologically linked? This movie attacks the situation from a lot of angles, to the point where it eventually becomes less about Polley’s family and her history and more about the nature of the past, and how even the most personal events we’ve experienced become just another story after we process and retell them. Even our own perspective can’t be trusted. This movie has layers.
Also, to call Stories We Tell a documentary might not be entirely accurate. Certainly portions of it are a documentary, but then there are other parts that are dramatized. Fantasy and reality get blurred to the point where the film becomes something like F For Fake, or maybe Exit Through the Gift Shop, but focusing on people’s lives instead of their art. Oh yeah, it should be mentioned that it’s really funny and consistently entertaining too. It wouldn’t be the pick of the month if it weren’t.
Almost Human is writer/director Joe Begos’ first feature, and it’s clear when watching it that he didn’t have very much money to work with while he was making it, so there are certainly some aspects of it that are rough around the edges. The acting, for instance, can leave a little bit to be desired, with some of the amateurs making up the supporting cast being particularly bad; and the effects work can at times look a little bit dated.
Seeing as Almost Human is such a loving homage to 80s horror though, these are faults that can be forgiven. They might even add a little bit of authenticity. What we have here is an alien abduction story turned slasher movie that owes so much to the sci-fi and horror work that people like John Carpenter that it even uses the same font that Carpenter’s movies did for its opening credits, and it features a score that apes the synth-heavy tension-builders that Carpenter used to compose.
Almost Human is full of brutal, disgusting gore that’s brought to life with tactile, practical effects work, and it manages to come in at a breezy, 70-minute run time, so anybody who has an affection for genre filmmaking should have plenty of opportunity to give it a look. With Begos, we could have an exciting future talent on our hands.
Not only is Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now one of the most inventive literary adaptations in film history (it’s a loose recreation of Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” that updates its setting to the Vietnam War), it’s also just plain one of the best and most ambitious movies that’s ever been made. It’s full of iconic performances (from the likes of Martin Sheen, Robert Duvall, and Marlon Brando), it’s full of iconic lines (“Saigon, shit, I’m still only in Saigon,” “Charlie don’t surf,” “The horror…”), and it’s full of iconic images (the igniting napalm, the Playboy bunnies escaping a riot via chopper, Brando dumping water over his bald head), so what more can one ask from a movie?
Both the original version of the film and the extended “Redux” have been added to streaming, but if you haven’t seen the movie yet, you want to watch the original. The Redux makes an already lengthy movie bloated and is really only for fans who are interested in the creative process.
Carrie is such a classic horror movie that stuck in the public consciousness so thoroughly that it seemed kind of ridiculous when it got remade last year. Who hasn’t already seen Carrie? Who doesn’t think the original holds up? Nobody, that’s who. Let’s not get stuck talking about Hollywood’s need to remake everything, though. Instead let’s focus on the things that have made the Brian De Palma original endure.
The film taps into the confusion that comes with puberty and the pain of schoolyard bullying, which nearly everyone can relate to on some level, and it amps everything up to insane levels, to the point of where it makes being a teenager seem truly horrific (which it is). It’s full of bloody iconography, lines that are fun to quote, and it features a couple of performances that will always be remembered. Has there been anyone better at projecting anxiety and sexual confusion than Sissy Spacek? Is there a more terrifying parent figure in film history than Piper Laurie? If you’re a horror fan and you’ve somehow gone this long without checking out the original Carrie, it’s time to end that silliness now.
Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan character is popular enough to have jumped from books to the big screen a handful of times now, with several different actors portraying him, so there’s no doubting the franchise’s popularity. If there’s any problem with these Jack Ryan movies it’s that they take themselves too seriously, focusing on dirty political dealings and stern men glowering at each other very dramatically more than they focus on the stupid action sequences that come along with any movie about specially trained government operatives.
That said, Clear and Present Danger does end up having enough stupid action to make up for all of its wrinkled foreheads and complex policy talk, so it gets a pass. It’s kind of hard to stay mad at any movie that includes both a back alley bazooka ambush as well as a climactic scene where the main character has to hang from the bottom of a chopper. Plus, Harrison Ford is a strong enough actor who brings enough gravitas to the table that he’s able to sell all of Ryan’s self-serious monologues about duty and honor pretty well. All in all, this is a strong action movie.
It’s true that El Dorado is basically just Rio Bravo done over again with the same star and the same director, and Rio Bravo was already a perfectly acceptable Western, but that doesn’t mean that El Dorado isn’t still ridiculously watchable in its own right, and actually better in a handful of ways as well. After all, when you’ve got talents like John Wayne and Robert Mitchum being directed by a master like Howard Hawks, does it really matter that you’re getting the same old honorable gunfighter who has to sober up a drunk sheriff in order to take on some bad guys story? No, it doesn’t.
Wayne is the most honorable cowboy there is, and Mitchum is the most likable drunk, so you’re in good hands. El Dorado also features a couple of pretty ladies (Charlene Holt, Michele Carey) acting sassy, a couple of fun shootouts, and a young James Caan being at first charming and then uncomfortably racist against the Chinese, so there’s basically little more that you could ask of a Western.
If there’s one thing Elijah Wood is really good at as an actor, it’s using his big blue eyes and his expressive little baby face to convey worry and fear. Filmmakers have been utilizing this skill of his all the way since the days of Radio Flyer and The Good Son, so that revelation is nothing new, but it may just be that Grand Piano is the movie that has used Wood’s tension-building mug to the best results yet. The film casts him as an exceptional piano player who nonetheless experienced a public humiliation, years ago, when he melted down trying to perform a complicated piece. Well, this is his comeback concert, and if his past failure didn’t have him feeling nervous enough already, a sniper who threatens to start popping off bystanders if he misses even a single note makes things worse. Basically, this movie is Speed, but with a piano instead of a bus, and it still goes over 50 miles per hour.
What’s most notable about the film is that the real star isn’t even Wood, it’s the way director Eugenio Mira and his cinematographer Umax Mendía are able to move the camera in order to make a situation that takes place in a static location feel dynamic. The camera glides through the action, it swoops around it, but it’s never disorienting or obtrusive. I’d call the confidence with which it moves positively Spielbergian, and the skill on display takes this already decent thriller to a whole other level.
It seems like something of a trend recently to pick out character actors who have worked in the movie business for years, making dozens and dozens of movies but never getting to that next level of stardom where the Average Joe knows their name, and praise them. It’s a good trend, because a lot of really talented people have been doing a lot of really good supporting work in movies for decades now, and just because they might not have leading man qualities doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be recognized.
Harry Dead Stanton is one of these guys—maybe the king of them. He’s so talented, he’s made so many movies, and he’s a pretty interesting old curmudgeon to boot, so why take a peek at what his life is like? This doc that follows him around is only 76 minutes long, so there’s no reason not to. At least watch a little bit of it to hear Harry Dean’s singing voice. This man is a musical man.
David S. Ward isn’t the sort of filmmaker whose name you hear get dropped very often, but back in the late 80s and early 90s he made Major League and King Ralph back to back, so he’s not the sort of talent you should sneeze at. Major League is the greatest baseball-themed comedy of all time, on that point we can all agree. Probably we’re all in agreement that it’s one of the very best sports-themed comedies of all time as well. There are so many memorable characters here, so many quotes that college kids still like to break out in everyday conversation, and there’s that board they make where every time they win a game they tear off a piece of the evil owner ladies’ dress. That’s how you build tension to a big game—the false promise of nudity. Drunken Bob Uecker commentary, that Randy Newman song about Cleveland, Charlie Sheen’s ridiculous faux-punk hairdo… face it, you love this movie. It’s probably time to watch it again.