Welcome to Flavorwire’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. This week, we’ve got new films starring Kristen Wiig, Jon Hamm, Matthew McConaughey, Olivia Wilde, Adam Scott, Richard Pryor, Megan Fox, Eric Bana, Harvey Keitel, Charlie Hunnam, Kate Mara, Richard Dreyfuss, Bette Midler, Keanu Reeves, and Nick Nolte, plus a pair of our favorite recent documentaries. Check them all out after the jump, and follow the title links to watch them right now.
Lucky writer/director Jennifer Westfeldt (Kissing Jessica Stein) managed to land four co-stars of Bridesmaids (Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Chris O’Dowd, and her longtime paramour Jon Hamm) for this slight but charming rom-com, released less than a year after Paul Feig and Judd Apatow’s mega-hit. Like that film, Friends is a consistently funny female-driven picture with a refreshingly bawdy sense of humor and an airtight ensemble. Its conclusions are pretty easy to predict, but the performances are rock-solid, while Westfeldt exhibits a deft hand at balancing comedy and drama, and pivoting between them when you’re not expecting it.
This snowy ticking-clock thriller is a bit too busy and discombobulated to accomplish everything it’s attempting, but as an actors’ showcase, it can’t be beat: Eric Bana is a surprisingly adept hillybilly psycho, Charlie Hunnam is a credibly world-weary ex-con, Olivia Wilde proves herself much more than just an achingly pretty face, and Sissy Spacek and Kris Kristofferson are both incapable of a false note (can’t they both just be in everything?). Not a great movie, but moody and well executed, and filled with memorable set pieces.
Documentary filmmakers love making movies about movies, but this wonky doc may be the most “inside baseball” movie-about-movies to date — and that is its strength. Ostensibly a look at the current struggle (and transition) between traditional photochemical film and digital moviemaking, it is actually an exhaustively detailed “state of the cinema” thesis, including thoughts on production, editing, distribution, exhibition, 3D, archiving, and more. For those of us who care about this stuff, it’s a fascinating 100-minute think piece; the arguments are well articulated by exactly the voices you want to hear from (including Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Steven Soderbergh, David Lynch, Christopher Nolan, Robert Rodriguez, Danny Boyle, the Wachowskis, and Richard Linklater).
Now that Matthew McConaughey has pulled one of the most remarkable about-faces in modern movie history, transforming from vanilla rom-com leading man (and critical punching bag) into one of our most fascinating and reliably interesting actors, it’s worth noting that he didn’t switch immediately from the depths of Fool’s Gold to the heights of Killer Joe. In between came this transitional film from director Brad Furman, which is easily dismissed as proto-Grisham trash, but sports an excellent supporting cast (William H. Macy, Marisa Tomei, Ryan Phillippe, John Leguizamo) and a genuinely interesting performance by McConaughey, who imbues his sleazy lawyer protagonist with a believable layer of sleaze and an unexpected level of complexity.
Cristian Mungiu’s latest drama, Beyond the Hills, is provoking plenty of thought (and intense debate) in art houses around the world; if you’ve been haunted by its everyday horrors, or moved by its portrayal of a troubled friendship, it’s worth taking a look at Mungiu’s masterful 2007 examination of similar themes. 4 Months, set in his homeland of Romania (circa 1980s), concerns a woman who helps her friend obtain an illegal abortion. Stark, uncompromising, and brilliant.
Brad Anderson has had a rather puzzling directorial career; he’s done scores of terrific TV work and several outstanding independent genre films, but his most mainstream-minded works tend to end up in the trash heap. That certainly applies to his latest film, the tepid Halle Berry vehicle The Call, but if you’d like to see what the guy can really do, check out this effective and creepy 2001 haunted-mental-hospital chiller. (And for a total change of pace, Netflix also has his 1998 breakthrough film, the romantic comedy Next Stop Wonderland .)
BAM’s recent retrospective of the films of Richard Pryor got us thinking a lot about the kid from Peoria, and how few films managed to harness his considerable power and charisma. To top it off, one of the few that did has been frustratingly difficult to see (but is, thankfully, newly streaming on Netflix): this 1978 drama from Paul Schrader (writer of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull), who made his directorial debut with the unenviable task of marshaling the hot tempers and combustible personalities of Pryor, Harvey Keitel, and Yaphet Kotto. The three men play best friends on the Detroit auto assembly lines who are split apart by business interests and union politics; it’s a tough, difficult picture, trying but rewarding, and Pryor’s (mostly serious) performance is a revelation.
Another catalog title recently added to Netflix Instant: this uproarious class comedy from Paul Mazursky, remaking Renoir’s 1932 classic Boudu Saved from Drowning as an examination of New Age self-improvement and conspicuous consumption in mid-‘80s Beverly Hills. Richard Dreyfuss, Bette Midler, and Nick Nolte were all rescued from wrecked careers by this wickedly intelligent and bitingly funny farce, which holds the distinction of being the first film distributed by Disney (via its Touchstone imprint) to carry an R rating.
And another newly streaming favorite — Terrence Howard (seen this spring in The Company You Keep and Dead Men Down, and not in Iron Man 3) found his breakthrough role, and an Oscar nomination, in this unexpectedly rich and heartfelt tale of a Memphis hustler who allows himself a dream. The music is powerful, the emotions are genuine, and Howard has never been better. (And Taraji P. Henson is pretty magnificent too.)
“Innocent man proven guilty” is one of the more venerable documentary formats, and one of our favorites; from The Thin Blue Line to Paradise Lost (to, possibly, a follow-up to Capturing the Friedmans), it’s a story that never gets old. Netflix recently added this 2006 story of Hunt, wrongfully convicted of the 1984 rape and murder of a young North Carolina woman. Hunt served nearly 20 years in prison before he was freed by DNA evidence and the confession of the real perpetrator. Directors Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg (who later made Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work) tells Hunt’s story with clarity, anger, and sensitivity.