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. Last time, we walked you though a mass exodus of titles at the end of July, but as Netflix taketh away, it giveth; a ton of new (and catalog) titles were added at the beginning of August, so we’ll walk you though the best of those, and a few other films worth seeking out as well. Check them all out after the jump, and follow the title links to watch them right now.
Much hullabaloo ensued when the once-a-decade Sight & Sound poll came out last week, in which Vertigo displaced long-time favorite Citizen Kane at the top of the critics’ poll. Less commented on was the equally-intriguing filmmakers’ poll, which gave the top slot to neither Kane nor Vertigo but Yasujiro Ozu’s classic Tokyo Story. Lucky for you, that film — and, in fact, much of the Criterion Collection — is streaming over at Hulu Plus, so go see the movie that the filmmakers endorse; while you’re at it, bookmark this handy tool from our friends over at Watch It, which tells you how to get your eyes on all of the high-ranking films in the S&S poll.
Also appearing on the Sight & Sound countdown (#24 on the critics’ list) is Wong Kar-Wai’s 2001 masterpiece, which popped up several times in our last two, pretty-pictures-heavy video essays. And for good reason — the cinematography (by Pung-Leung Kwan, Ping Bin Lee, and Wong’s longtime collaborator Christopher Doyle) is luminous, and its story of heartbreak and temptation is powerfully emotional (yet fiercely contained).
Barely missing our recent list of the best music documentaries was this excellent doc from last spring, in which director Joe Berlinger (of the Paradise Lost films and Metallica: Some Kind of Monster) revisits the recording of Paul Simon’s Graceland album and the controversies surrounding it — specifically, how Simon violated the Apartheid-era “cultural boycott” of South Africa by recording it there, with native musicians. The film works as both music and documentary: it provides a peek into Simon’s songwriting and production process, while honestly engaging in the debate that popped up around the album. That debate gets a fair discussion, honoring the questions and acknowledging the complexity; it’s a thoughtful, well-made documentary. And it’s full of great music.
ESPN just dumped nearly every episode and follow-up film to their excellent 30 for 30 series on Netflix, and it’s taking pretty much every ounce of self-control we’ve got to not just select ten of those titles and call it a day. But instead, we’ll pick our very favorite: Brett Morgen’s gripping documentary account of a single day in the life of sports. On June 17, 1994, Arnold Palmer played his final US Open competition, opening ceremonies for the World Cup were held in Chicago, the New York Rangers celebrated their Stanley Cup trophy with a ticker-tape parade, and the Knicks and Rockets faced off in game five of the NBA finals. Oh, and O.J. Simpson, wanted for the murder of his ex-wife Nicole and friend Ron Goldman, led the LAPD and a battery of news choppers on a bizarre low-speed highway chase, with a gun to his head and his friend A.C. Cowlings at the wheel. Morgen eschews the standard documentary tropes of talking heads, contemplative narration, and past tense — his film is set in the nail-biting present, comprised entirely of news footage (on and off air), masterfully edited and tensely scored. But his smartest move is the decision to not focus solely on O.J.: by widening his scope to the entirety of that day’s sports stories, he gets at the full range of emotion for sports fans: joy, excitement, suspense, and agony. (If you like this one, check out some of the other 30 for 30s: Muhammad and Larry, Catching Hell, No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson, The U, The Best That Never Was, and The Band That Wouldn’t Die are our faves.)
Your film editor wasn’t quite as enraptured with Gavin O’Connor’s MMA melodrama as some critics, but it’s certainly worth seeing — if, for no other reason, than to take in a trio of brilliant performances. Tom Hardy (growling and booming his way across movie screens as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises) brings his remarkable physicality and brooding intensity to the role of a no-nonsense fighter, Joel Edgerton (so good in Animal Kingdom) plays his brother and competitor with fierce determination, and Nick Nolte has never been better as their flawed and heartbroken patriarch. Not a great movie, but loaded with great acting.
Joe Johnston’s take on the classic Marvel superhero is a work of pure pop bubblegum pleasure — rousing, thrilling, and thoroughly satisfying. Johnson delivers his period thrills and super-hero action with exactly the right mixture of tongue-in-cheek humor and gee-whiz enthusiasm, Chris Evans is a charming, likable, and robust leading man, and his supporting cast (Tommy Lee Jones, Stanley Tucci, Hugo Weaving, and the luminous Haley Atwell) couldn’t be better. Now that we’ve all enjoyed Evans as America in The Avengers, the careful groundwork laid for that film in Johnston’s picture is worth re-appraising, and re-admiring.
The final film effort of the Monty Python troupe tends to get short shrift among fans, and much of that is because of the boys themselves, who’ve tended to disparage it a bit in interviews and remembrances (primarily due to the stress of its writing and assemblage). But your film editor’s always had a soft spot for the film, mainly because it marks the sole occasion in which the Pythons had a less-than-skimpy budget and full access to the resources of a major studio. As a result, the film has a slick, professional sheen that makes its vulgar content seem all the more subversive — and they get the opportunity to stage major production numbers (“Every Sperm is Sacred”), giant set pieces (the pre-feature “Crimson Permanent Assurance” short), and even some impressive special effects (the notorious “Mr. Cerosote” sketch—wafer thin mint?). It may not have as many laughs as Holy Grail or take on as many sacred cows as Life of Brian, but Meaning of Life is a better and funnier film than its creators seem to think.
First-time director J.C. Chandor assembles an impressive ensemble cast (Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Simon Baker, Stanley Tucci, Zachary Quinto, Demi Moore) for this taut and compelling fictionalized story of one Wall Street firm on the eve of the financial meltdown. It’s a film that challenges our traditional notions of identification — some of these are very bad people, and while Chandor doesn’t apologize for them, he at least acknowledges that they’ve got some complexity and dimension to them, and that there’s varying degrees of blame and complicity to go around. And it’s not just a dry financial exposé — it’s a smart and funny picture, and there’s not a weak link in that varsity cast.
This pitch-black comedy from comic-turned-filmmaker Bobcat Goldthwait is one of the riskiest and darkest American films in years, maybe in decades; ultra-violent and comically nihilistic, it upset quite a few folks in its initial theatrical release (and that was before its shooting-up-a-cinema sequence suddenly became extra uncomfortable). But it’s an important and, yes, intelligent movie, examining our celebrity and “reality”-train-wreck obsessed world with a keen eye and ear from the screeching cacophony of decay our culture has become; you may not agree with his methods or his tone, but Goldthwait is one of the few filmmakers daring to ask these questions these days.
Willem Dafoe fronts this challenging, difficult, and haunting drama from director Daniel Nettheim. He plays a loner hunter who has been sent into the wilds of Tasmania to procure “biological samples” from the Tasmanian tiger (the last one, if it even exists), but it doesn’t end up going quite like that, as these things seldom do. The ads made it look like something in the mold of the Liam Neeson picture The Grey, but it’s a more modest film than that, contemplative even, filled with strange beauty and quiet majesty — particularly in its closing scenes, which are powerful, thought-provoking, and genuinely upsetting.
That’s what we’re watching online this week — what about you? Add your own Netflix/Hulu/etc. recommendations in the comments!