Welcome to Flavorpill’s streaming movie guide, in which we help you sift through the scores of movies streaming on Netflix, Hulu, and other services to find the best of the recently available, freshly relevant, or soon to expire. Netflix is losing some awfully good films at the end of July, so we’re heavy on titles with an expiration date, but we’ve got some new streamers as well — featuring Al Pacino, Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Hilary Swank, Woody Harrelson, Miranda July, and Bruce Campbell, plus a couple of great documentaries and (cheating a bit) one of our favorite TV shows. Check them all out after the jump, and follow the title links to watch them right now.
The Messenger writer/director Oren Moverman reunites with star Woody Harrelson in this 2011 drama, and while it’s not quite up to their previous collaboration, it’s worth seeing for Harrelson’s scorching work. The role of defiantly dirty LA cop Dave Brown is a perfect showcase for the sense of danger that Harrelson always seems, in his best roles, to be struggling to keep at bay — the fire behind his eyes, the tension in his jaw. It’s a beautifully modulated piece of work, as his complicated and self-destructive characters creeps ever so further over the edge; you can’t take your eyes off him.
Miranda July is not a filmmaker whose work inspires apathy; it seems everyone either loves or loathes her. Some find her a remarkable and unique voice; others find her work intolerable, overly mannered, and self-conscious. The latter set of folks will find nothing to dissuade them in her latest film, which concerns a young couple whose entire worldview is shaken to its core by their decision to adopt an injured stray cat. From that odd (yet, within the film, entirely logical) leap, The Future stakes out its claim in a territory of its own making; some of the events are wholly inexplicable, but we’re never uncertain of them, because July isn’t. She’s entirely earnest, as a filmmaker and a performer, and in the hands of some this’d be insufferable hipster claptrap (and some may think it is anyway). But there’s no ironic detachment, no condescending to hers or the other characters. It’s a strange and difficult film, but some will find it enthralling. You know who you are.
One of the problems with making lists on a deadline is that you inevitably think of one that got away when it’s too late. For example, yesterday we posted a list of our favorite music documentaries; later that same day, this fascinating 1965 profile of the great Leonard Cohen became available for streaming, and we did a bit of a face-palm. To be fair, the focus here is Cohen the poet and novelist rather than Cohen the singer/songwriter, but that caveat aside, this is a remarkable portrait of the artist as a young man.
We usually try to stick to, y’know, movies here in the “streaming movie guide,” but we feel okay about making an exception in the case of the newly streaming fourth season of Breaking Bad, since it’s better than just about any movie that came out last year. The fourth year of Vince Gilligan’s searing drama — which somehow keeps topping itself — burrows deeper into the psychological damage of Walt and Jesse’s increasingly perilous lives; the cold-blooded murder that ended season three plunges Jesse into a terrifying drug relapse and orgy of pernicious behavior, while we witness the equally distressing expansion of Walt’s ego, which threatens to slip out of his tenuous control and put him in real danger. The sense of dread and constant tension is as thick and powerful as ever, the show permeated by the constant feeling that something bad is going to happen, as well as the subtextual thrill of wondering at the end of each episode (and season, for that matter) how the hell the characters — and the writers — will ever get out of the corner they’ve painted themselves into. And just when you think they have, the show punches you in the gut again.
Writer/director Michael Stephenson’s hilarious documentary expires on July 31; it tells the story of how an obscure Z-movie called Troll 2 (also streaming, if you’d like to make a double feature of it) became a cult item, beloved for its sheer and total badness. Stephenson comes at Troll 2 from a personal angle — he appeared in the film, as a child actor — but this affectionate, enjoyable movie, and it’s more than just a look at this particular film and the oddballs who love it. It’s about shared experiences: the motley crew of would-be actors and oddball Italian filmmakers who made this weird, inexplicable movie, and the fans who cottoned to it, passed it around, watched it in groups, communicated in quoted lines, shared elaborate inside jokes about it. Stephenson correctly sees fandom as a way that outsiders form bonds and make connections, and in Best Worst Movie, we see that it also gives creative people (talented or not) a glimpse of the fame they yearn for — however unfortunate the reasons for that fame might be.
The rest of the films on our list expire August 1st, so act fast if you somehow haven’t seen them, or (more likely) would like to give them another look. Kimberly Peirce’s 1999 drama isn’t exactly the kind of movie you return to for pleasure, but it’s a powerful and moving film, with Oscar-winner Hilary Swank disappearing entirely into the role that finally made us all forget The Next Karate Kid. Chloë Sevingy’s fine-tuned work was rather overlooked in all the hoopla over Swank, which is another reason this tough, somber picture is worth going back to.
In our last streaming movie guide, we directed you to the last film of the great Sidney Lumet; now, here’s a (limited) opportunity to see what may have been his best. Based on a true incident from summer of 1972, Dog Day Afternoon stars Al Pacino as Sonny, a would-be bank robber who bungles his attempt to hold up a Brooklyn bank and finds himself at the center of a media circus (back when there weren’t so many of those). Lumet encouraged his cast to “portray the characters they played as close to themselves as possible, to take as little as possible from the outside, to spare nothing of themselves from the inside” (according to his wonderful book Making Movies). As a result, the film is grounded in a documentary-style realism that makes its surprise turns all the more astonishing. The top-notch script is by Frank Pierson, who also wrote Cat Ballou and Cool Hand Luke, and who died just last Monday.
As we find ourselves underwhelmed by both the Sam Raimi-less Spider-Man reboot and the trailer for Mr. Raimi’s Oz the Great and Powerful, it’s probably a good time to revisit Mr. Raimi’s initial and perhaps finest achievement: the haunted cabin horror/comedy he made in 1980 for about 375 grand. Its sequel is slightly more sophisticated, and blends its genres with a bit more skill, but there’s a rough, down-and-dirty edge to this, his breakthrough film; plus, it’s been overdo for a return viewing since the spring release of Cabin in the Woods, which was full of shout-outs and homages.
Its goofy semi-obligatory lyrical interlude aside, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is pretty much a perfect movie: witty script by the great William Goldman (The Princess Bride), crackerjack direction from George Roy Hill, funny set pieces, well-defined characters, and expert byplay by the young (and sexy) team of Paul Newman and Robert Redford. Its moments — that bike ride, the cliff jump, the final hail of bullets — have been excerpted to death, but this sharp Western buddy comedy is much more than a collection of famous scenes.
In case you want to see where all your “Hitler’s mad about a thing” videos come from.
That’s what we’re watching this week — what about you? Let us know in the comments!