Christmas has come and gone. So, now’s the time to plan some activities for those late nights at the family home, when the kids and elderly relatives have gone to bed and the last thing you want to do is spend quality time with awful Cousin Myrtle. Last week, we rounded up the best new fall TV shows to catch up on over the break. But if you’d rather settle down with a great movie and happen not to have dropped Netflix after their year of terrible decisions, then allow us to alert you to some of 2011’s best films that also happen to be available for streaming on the site. A gay British romance for the ages, a dreamy Thai meditation on death, and a hilarious mockumentary that finds Steve Coogan (sort of) playing himself are just a few of the noteworthy new movies from around the world that await you after the jump.
A mesmerizing, atmospheric, and occasionally incredibly strange film about a man on his deathbed who relives moments from his past lives and communes with some familiar spirits from his current one. Like Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s past work, Cannes Palme d’Or winner Uncle Boonmee is filled with magical and spiritual touches that defy description and must simply be experienced.
She may be racking up well-deserved award nominations for playing Marilyn Monroe in My Week with Marilyn, but we enjoyed Michelle Williams even more in Meek’s Cutoff. Based on a true story, the film finds Old Joy and Wendy and Lucy director Kelly Reichardt adapting her minimalist aesthetic to the tale of an Oregon Trail wagon train led by a guide who may well have no idea where he’s going. The interpersonal drama escalates when water becomes scarce and the travelers capture a Native American who has the power to either save or doom them.
In this British indie, a one-night stand is transformed into a life-changing encounter when two gay men meet at a club and embark upon a quick and intense journey into the meaning of love. One of the most glowingly reviewed movies of the year, Weekend inspired A.O. Scott to call it “one of the most satisfying love stories you are likely to see on screen this year.”
This documentary about the Black Power movement comes from an unlikely source — a trove of footage shot by Swedish journalists sent to America in the late ’60s to cover the story. Along with clips of everyone from Angela Davis to Stokely Carmichael, the film features interviews with contemporary African-American icons, including Erykah Badu and Danny Glover.
Cinephiles who enjoyed French filmmaker Catherine Breillat’s Bluebeard will probably have some idea of how crazy her fairy tale adaptations can be — and if you’ve seen any of her work at all, the evil-sister theme will certainly be familiar. But even those who’ve prepared themselves for her weirdness will find that this lush, strange Sleeping Beauty is like nothing we’ve seen before.
In 1990, the British playwright Andrea Dunbar died at the tragically young age of 29. No typical documentary, The Arbor explores her difficult life in an entirely unexpected way, interviewing her friends and family and using actors to lip-sync the audio from those sessions. This may seem a complicated way to approach biography, but critics found the film’s style worked well with its unusual subject — a woman who endured poverty, drugs, multiple marriages, and teen pregnancy to become a brilliant voice for her disadvantaged, underrepresented community.
It’s become damn near impossible to keep track of Werner Herzog’s filmography — in the past two years, he’s made five films. Cave of Forgotten Dreams is his 3D documentary on France’s Chauvet caves, the site of humanity’s oldest known artwork. Like everything Herzog does, it is philosophical, epic, and visually stunning.
Speaking of wildly prolific directors, here’s the latest Takashi Miike film to cross the Pacific to America. 13 Assassins is the Japanese gore master’s take on a samurai flick, following a small band of brave warriors on a seemingly doomed journey to assassinate an evil, powerful leader. Those who can’t stand blood and sexual violence should steer clear of this one, but if you have a strong stomach, you’ll find plenty of great characters and tons of fun genre play in this historically inspired tale.
Do you really want to spend 107 minutes of your life watching two actors drive across England eating fancy food? When those actors are Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, we can scarcely think of a better way to spend that time. The Trip, a feature-film edit of a BBC miniseries, finds the pair playing exaggerated versions of themselves: Coogan is the lonely, highbrow womanizer to Brydon’s simple, silly family man. The haute cuisine and countryside scenery are nice, but it’s the men’s banter — which ranges from an ongoing impression competition to each man’s dissection of the other’s life — that makes it essential viewing.
What, you don’t want to spend your holiday watching a documentary about extremist environmental activists? Maybe it would help if we let John Waters (who ranked it his sixth favorite film of the year in a top 10 list for Artforum ) describe it for you: “This sad documentary debates the regrets of radicalism as a pack of lunatic-kid tree huggers get caught up in frenzied activism and are suddenly accused by the government of terrorism.”