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 stuff from Jennifer Lawrence, Sean Connery, Russell Crowe, Liam Neeson, Richard Gere, Emma Thompson, Kenneth Branagh, Elizabeth Banks, Andy Garcia, Robin Williams, Woody Harrelson, and Val Kilmer, plus three terrific documentaries. Check them all out after the jump, and follow the title links to watch them right now.
Chances are, you probably already saw writer/director Gary Ross’s adaptation of the first book in the bestselling trilogy by Suzanne Collins — it was one of last year’s highest-grossing flicks, after all. But here’s what’s unusual about its box office success: it’s actually a legitimately good movie. Ross’s script is smart and well constructed, his direction tight and involving, the supporting cast is aces, and Jennifer Lawrence is terrific (which almost goes without saying these days). All in all, a nice bit of confirmation that big-budget tent-pole studio filmmaking and high quality don’t have to work against each other.
One of last year’s most controversial documentaries — less for its subject matter than for the kerfuffle around its rating. The bean counters at the MPAA originally branded it with an R rating due to some errant “F-words,” a move that would have kept teen audiences (who could learn something from it) from seeing it without a parent or guardian. Of course, some skeptics wondered if the whole controversy was drummed up for publicity by distributor Harvey Weinstein (who’s got a history of that kinda thing), especially since the notion of teenage bullies going to see a documentary about bullies by themselves or with their bully friends is a bit quaint. Anyway, it’s a moot point now — it’s on streaming on Netflix, where everybody can see it.
Another acclaimed doc from last year, this one a fascinating exposé of the international modeling trade and the women it thrives on (and exploits). Directors David Redmon and Ashley Savin make the most of their extraordinary access, casting an unblinking eye at the seedy business of selling women and preying on dreams.
With all the hullabaloo over the 50th anniversary of the James Bond movies, and the heavy marketing of that big anniversary Blu-ray box set, the 007 movies disappeared from Netflix for a while. Now they’re back, for a limited time at least (the site indicates they’re only streaming through the month of April), so here’s where you start: with the first Bond flick, released in 1962 and starring Sean Connery as the first (and best — no arguing!) onscreen incarnation of Bond, James Bond (cue music).
We missed this one in last week’s big roundup of newly streaming catalog titles, and we just couldn’t live with ourselves. Kenneth Branagh followed up the triumph of his debut directorial effort Henry V with this crisp, stylish, and kinda bananas film noir riff from the pen of screenwriter Scott Frank (who would go on to write the similarly noir-influenced The Lookout and Malice, as well as the adaptations of Minority Report, Out of Sight, and Get Shorty). Branagh and then-bride Emma Thompson play a private eye and the amnesiac woman he’s trying to help — whom he discovers was his wife in a past life. It sounds goofy, and it is, but Branagh directs the film with just the right dose of theatrical panache, and the supporting turns by Derk Jacobi, Andy Garcia and Robin Williams are giggly treats.
Paul Haggis wrote and directed one comically schematic Important Issue movie (Crash) that inexplicably won the Oscar for Best Picture; after that, he wrote and directed two more films that were indisputably great, yet ignored by audiences and shrugged off by critics. Way to go, Hollywood! The first was In the Valley of Elah, which features maybe the best performance Tommy Lee Jones ever put to film; the second was this 2010 flop, a wrongfully accused/prison escape story that delivers the thriller goods while asking questions of morality that such efforts usually skip. It’s streaming for one more week — give it a shot, and you’ll hardly believe it’s by the guy that made Crash.
Also expiring this week is Ben Steinbauer’s often funny, occasionally sad documentary profile of Jack Rebney, whose furious outtakes for a Winnebago industrial video became first a VHS-swapping and then an Internet sensation. Steinbauer tracks down the meme man, and in the process of trying to understand him, he takes a man who was a joke, and renders him a full, perhaps tragic, yet strangely likable figure. Talk about doing someone a kindness.
This week’s theatrical releases include 42, Brian Helgeland’s big biopic of the great Jackie Robinson. It’s a movie that’s been kicked around for a while (we sure would’ve liked to see the one Spike Lee kept trying to get made), but by no means the first — in fact, back in 1950, director Alfred E. Green brought the boundary-breaking baseball star’s story to the screen. Not only that, he brought Robinson along; the athlete plays himself in the film version of his life, alongside the great Ruby Dee as his wife. Archive.org’s got the film for streaming and download.
Also out this week: Terrence Malick’s latest valentine to the pleasures of voice-over and windy wheat fields, To the Wonder; only one of his earlier efforts is currently streaming on Netflix, but it’s the gorgeous and occasionally confounding Days of Heaven, the film on which Malick seemed to discover his signature style of working (extensive improvisation, lots of shooting, finding the movie in the editing room). Your computer screen may not do full justice to the legendary “magic hour” photography, but on any screen, this one is a sight to behold.
And finally, the saddest of this week’s new theatrical releases: Scary Movie 5, yet another nail in the coffin of the once reliable “spoof movie.” Even fallen Airplane co-director David Zucker, who helmed the franchise’s third and fourth installments, bowed out this time around (as did Anna Faris, at long last). For a reminder of the subgenre’s glory days, go a little earlier in Zucker’s filmography, to this uproariously funny mash-up of Elvis musical and Cold War thriller, featuring Val Kilmer in his film debut.