More Werner Herzog bleakness than you can shake a doomed stick at.
People are always complaining that there are no good movies to watch on Netflix. That’s hogwash. Great new picks get added every month, you just need to know where to look. Here’s a handy list to help you fill your month with movie goodness. Click on the films’ titles to be taken to their Netflix pages.
Pick of the Month: Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
So many Westerns have been made, especially between the 1930s and 1960s, that it’s impossible to have seen most of them, let alone all of them. And yet, it’s still possible to say that Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West is the greatest Western of all time. It just is. There are none more epic and sweeping. None more beautifully shot. None more patiently edited. None better acted. None with more iconic music. None with a stronger thematic connection to all of the expansion, exploration, and struggle that defined the push westward.
This movie rules because of Charles Bronson casually playing the harmonica when he’s threatened. It rules because of Henry Fonda showing that he’s versatile enough to play one of the sleaziest dicks ever put on film. It rules because of what a sleazy dick Jason Robards always is. It rules because Claudia Cardinale is the sauciest dish to ever show up in a dusty burg wearing a fancy hat. If you only watch one Western your whole life, then you’re a ridiculous masochist and I don’t understand you, but this is the one you want to pick.
Despite the fact that everything Joel and Ethan Coen makes has a distinct flavor that marks it as being undeniably their own, they still manage to make all sorts of different kinds of movies. They make silly, slapstick comedy, they make serious, character-driven drama, and they make dark, deep, frightening bits of magical realism like Barton Fink. This movie digs down into the realities of human suffering, but because it’s a Coens movie, it’s also really entertaining to watch and it has amazing moments of dark humor. John Turturro holds the whole thing together perfectly as the frantic title character. John Goodman steals every movie that came out that year as the pushy neighbor. John Mahoney manages to craft an unforgettable character with just a few minutes of screen time. This thing is so moody and interesting and thematically deep. If you’re a young movie buff and haven’t gotten to it yet because it’s early Coens, you now have an obligation.
Dazed and Confused is so casually watchable that it’s one of those movies you’ve probably come across on cable a thousand times, and you always sit and watch it no matter how far you already are into the movie. A million people have seen a million bits and pieces of this movie a million times. Now that it’s on Netflix, you can actually watch it from start to finish though. This thing works as a great piece of nostalgia for people who grew up in the 70s. It works as a great intro to character-focused indie films for teenagers. It works as a great comedy for basically anyone. With this look at the beer-swilling, pot-smoking, high school culture of his youth, writer/director Richard Linklater made something that’s absolutely going to last forever. It’s a modern classic, a great party movie, and it’s dying for you to press play.
Dheepan is a deeply interesting movie about a Sri Lankan soldier (Antonythasan Jesuthasan), a woman (Kalieaswari Srinivasan), and a young girl (Claudine Vinasithamby) who meet at a refugee camp and decide to pose as a family in order to start a new life in France, and it comes to us from director Jacques Audiard (A Prophet, Rust and Bone). Because its three leads are of different ages and different genders, Audiard is able to explore the process of assimilating into a new culture from three completely different points of view, which makes Dheepan a really rich experience. That’s not all this movie is about though. It’s also a really intense crime thriller that builds and builds in tension until it finally explodes into a terrific flurry of extreme violence in its third act. The storytelling is really satisfying, and Jesuthasan is beyond compelling to watch. This one is a real jewel. Don’t be a dum-dum and pass up the opportunity to give it a gander.
Chances are Ferris Bueller’s Day Off has been one of your favorite movies ever since you were a kid and you already own a copy of it on Blu-ray or in digital form, or whatever. Chances are you re-watch it a couple times a year already, because it works perfectly as cinematic comfort food. Chances are you’ve shook your fist in anger at Jeffrey Jones’ Ed Rooney, turned your nose up at Jennifer Grey’s nosy sister, and smiled at Charlie Sheen’s charmingly sleazy drug addict 1000 times already. Chances are you can quote along with every line Matthew Broderick delivers as the iconic title character. You might even give Abe Froman as a fake name whenever you put in for a table at a restaurant. If, for some reason, none of these things apply to you, however, you should know that you can now freely stream Ferris Bueller’s Day Off on Netflix. What have you been doing with your life?
Want to know what people are talking about when they go on about “onscreen chemistry?” Take a look at Deborah Kerr and Robert Mitchum sharing the screen in Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison. This whole movie is basically just two people stuck on a deserted island, talking and getting to know each other, and it still manages to be utterly compelling. Mitchum is at the peak of his charming rogue powers here. You can practically smell the whiskey stink coming off of his stubble. Kerr is able to imbue a nun with so much toughness and spunk that you’d think she was playing a pirate. It’s a great joy watching these two learn to like each other, and the film was directed by John Huston, so you know it looks great. Next time you’re looking to go old school with your movie night, this is your pick right here.
This is a very slow, very quiet haunted house movie that’s far more about mood-setting than anything else. There isn’t really any story told except that a caretaker (Ruth Wilson) moves into a new house, and spooky things start happening in the house that likely have something to do with a strange mold that’s growing out of the walls. There’s no pacing here, nor even any scares, really, but if you’re able to get on the same frequency that the film is working at, it proves to be quite transporting, nonetheless. Wilson is good as the lead. She’s got one of those faces that’s somehow able to do a whole lot, even when it’s not doing much at all. There’s so much going on in the twinkle in her eye, or in the curl of her lip. Also, this movie passes the Bob Balaban Test by featuring Bob Balaban. That’s always a plus. I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House isn’t going to be for everyone, but the people it is for should dig it a lot.
Grumpy old people are one of the most delightful things in the world. They’re so much better than kindly old people, who are boring. Last Cab to Darwin sees Michael Caton playing one of the grumpiest old men ever, and it’s very entertaining. The movie starts off with a scene where he dances (this thing has a great soundtrack!) alone while eating a sandwich and drinking a beer, like a hero, and it goes on from there to detail his drive across Australia to visit a doctor (Jacki Weaver) who he hopes will assist with his suicide. He’s so much fun to spend time with. Last Cab to Darwin fully fleshes its characters out and makes you care about them, it builds up to a really tense climax, it’s able to find a zen conclusion that feels in no way cloying, and it contains the line of dialogue, “Driving up here to die was the first thing I ever believed in.” It’s a very nice film.
The main reason to watch Len & Company is that Rhys Ifans is amazing – one of the best and most underappreciated actors working today – and in Len & Company he gets to flex his dickhead muscle by playing a jaded and above it all ex-rock star/current successful producer who feels put out when his teenage son (Jack Kilmer) and the pop star monster who he created (Juno Temple) come to visit. Watching him be a cranky cunt to these wide-eyed kids is endlessly entertaining, but that’s not all he’s offering up here. He’s able to make his character travel through a full arc, where he grows and changes, and all by barely doing anything but changing subtle things about the way he responds to things. He goes from being the world’s biggest prick to just being mostly grumpy and quiet, and it feels like a revelation. Temple is the other big reason to see this movie. She’s got so much life and energy in her that she just lights up the screen every time she appears on it. That’s especially the case here, where she’s playing a character who’s clearly destined to burn out rather than fade away.
Patton is a great, epic historical war drama. One of the real classics. It’s full of iconic images, it’s about the most interesting war in human history, and its central character was an unforgettable nut who makes a great subject for a film. The main attraction here is George C. Scott as the title character though. Finally he’s given a character looney enough to help him reach his full scene-chewing potential, and chew the scenery he does. Scott injects so much energy into this movie. He’s like a snarling dog fighting over a bone. After watching him play Patton for a near three hours, it’s pretty much guaranteed that you’ll spend the next few days walking around with your chest stuck out while peppering everything you say with the word “bastard” as often as possible. The whole Patton persona is so infectious, you can’t help but try to emulate it. Just make sure you don’t take things too far and slap any of your friends or family for cowardice. You’re going to want to, but that’s not okay.
Every frame of this movie is dripping with affection for the late 50’s period in which it’s set. Director Robert Redford’s camera lingers over every perfectly engineered period prop, from TVs, to cars, to simple set dressing. This was the golden age of mass marketed products, and this film fetishizes them to the point where it’s kind of a big screen version of Mad Men. The story is more engrossing than a story about an investigation into a rigged game show sounds like it should be too. Quiz Show is often a procedural, and it handles those sorts of storytelling elements well. The acting is the highlight here though, especially John Turturro’s performance as a spurned quiz show champion that’s just electric. He brings such a strange charisma to the role that’s somehow simultaneously confident and nerdy. Also, David Paymer and Hank Azaria play a duo of stooges, and they’re a lot of fun together, and Shooter MacGavin shows up playing a smarmy TV host. Nobody does smarmy like Shooter. Don’t let the montage-heavy first act scare you away from this one. It gets better as it goes.
This is one of those movies where a small force is hopelessly surrounded by a much larger force, and we’re tricked into liking them, which makes watching them make their brave but doomed stand completely harrowing. Despite the fact that this situation is caused by complex political situations, The Siege of Jadotville is a very simple movie. It’s action-based, it presents one side as vicious bad guys who are always pulling sneaky tricks and underhanded war crimes, the other side as being plucky underdogs who are fighting out of honor and valor, and it blows a lot of stuff up. It’s not stupid though. This isn’t exploitation; it’s a real film that builds real characters and actually manages to have a thing or two to say. If you’re a fan of war films, it will satisfy that itch you get every once in a while to see humanity face the most dire and perilous of circumstances. It also gets extra points if you’re Irish. There’s a lot of Irish pride going on here.
Back when he made Unforgiven in ’92, it felt like Clint Eastwood was trying to make one Uber-Western that would sum up everything he had been getting at while making all of those other Westerns over the course of his career – everything that the genre has to say about human nature, everything is has to say about conflict, and everything it has to say about what it means to be a man. He pretty much succeeded. This is a great Western that tells a poignant and memorable story, that’s gorgeous to look at, and that’s as thematically rich as they come. Unforgiven is also kind of an epic refutation of bluster and braggadocios behavior. All the good men here keep quiet, and all of the bad men can’t help but open their mouths to brag. When a lesson is learned, the lesson is that traditional toughness and masculinity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. When a lesson is failed to be learned, the failure comes in the form of Gene Hackman playing one of the cockiest pricks in cinema history. He’s so good here at making you hate him. Every day it feels like we miss Hackman’s work a little more.
Tons of Werner Herzog Docs
There are a lot of reasons to watch Werner Herzog’s documentaries. They’re always about interesting subjects. They always discover narrative threads even more interesting than their subjects as they develop. They’re thematically deep and always find something important and hilariously bleak to say about the larger world. Most importantly though, they’re always narrated by Herzog, who has the most delightful and hypnotic voice anyone has ever heard. Netflix just added a bunch of them, so this is the perfect time to dig into his filmography.
There’s his 1995 film, Lessons of Darkness, which documents the devastation of the oil fields in Kuwait after the Gulf War, his 1998 film, Little Dieter Needs to Fly, which is about a Navy pilot who was shot down over Laos and taken prisoner during the Vietnam war, his 2005 film, Grizzly Man, which is about a nature enthusiast illegally living with grizzly bears who eventually meets a predictably grizzly end, his 2007 film, Encounters at the End of the World, which looks at people who live and work in Antartica. There’s 2010’s Happy People: A Year in the Taiga, which spends time with people who live in a very isolated and very cold Russian village, the same year’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams, which studies the world’s oldest known cave drawings, 2011’s Into the Abyss, which explores the aftermath of a triple homicide and interviews the killers on death row, the 2013 film From One Second to the Next, where he shines a light on the devastating effects of texting while driving, and in a Netflix exclusive, there’s his newest project, Into the Inferno, which looks at the connection between volcanic eruptions and religious practices.
These movies all end up being about far more than what’s in those brief descriptions, of course, but discovering the meaty subtext and the juicy side stories is most of the fun of actually watching them.