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’re in Iron Man 3 mode, with noteworthy flicks featuring Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, and Ben Kingsley, plus additional titles featuring Matthew McConaughey, Nicole Kidman, Elliot Gould, Zac Efron, Edgar Ramirez, and John Cusack; check them out after the jump, and follow the title links to watch them right now.
Part of what makes Robert Downey Jr. so valuable as an actor — and thus the kind of guy who is a boon to franchises like Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes — is that he’s inherently interesting; he’s got a cockeyed way of delivering a line and a compelling manner of showing us that he’s thinking while onscreen. So, for example, he can take a fairly standard role, like that of the high school principal in Jon Poll’s 2007 comedy, and make it into something rich and funny and more than a little strange. (Bonus: a pre-2 Broke Girls Kat Dennings in a charming supporting role.)
Don Cheadle received his first and so far only (c’mon, Academy) Oscar nomination for this heart-wrenching 2004 drama. Cheadle stars as Paul Rusesabagina, manager of a five-star hotel in Rwanda, circa 1994 — a good man who tries to do something, anything, by opening the doors of his hotel to over 100 refugees. Quiet dignity is not an easy card to play onscreen (too often an actor appears to be pushing to be the hero), but Cheadle is the right man for the job; his is a performance of such total control that when he loses it, the effect is shattering. Harrowing, potent, powerful stuff.
This 1996 rom-com has acquired a pretty toxic reputation, for a reason totally beyond its control: it was one of the first of the many, many box office failures fronted by stars of Friends. But this is a perfectly serviceable, often funny, and rather effective mid-‘90s Graduate riff with an interesting pedigree: J.J. Abrams produced it for his frequent collaborator Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Let Me In, the forthcoming Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), who directs and co-wrote with Jason Katims (who developed and ran the TV versions of Friday Night Lights and Parenthood). David Schwimmer and Gwyneth Paltrow are likeable leads, while Toni Collette, Michael Rapaport, and Barbara Hershey (in the Mrs. Robinson role) shine in supporting roles.
New to the Iron Man fold this time around is Ben Kingsley (as villain The Mandarin), always busy and always intriguing; this is one of his lesser-seen vehicles, and an all-too-rare supporting role. In this black comedy from director John Dahl — who helmed Rounders, the fabulous neo-noir tales The Last Seduction and Red Rock West, and the wickedly entertaining B-movie Joyride — Kingsley plays a Polish mob hit man who tries to clean up his act… and stop drinking. Téa Leoni (seriously, how did Hollywood never figure out what the hell to do with Téa Leoni?) co-stars, showing off her screwball comedy chops; Kingsley plays it totally straight, and is that much funnier for it.
Iron Man 3 is, unsurprisingly, the week’s only new wide release, but if you’re in New York or Los Angeles, you have a few more choices — chief among them, Olivier Assayas’s excellent cinematic memoir of youthful activism, Something in the Air. It’s his first film since the massive undertaking of Carlos, the brutally exhausting, endlessly fascinating three-part TV miniseries he directed, from the life of Illich Ramirez Sanchez (aka Carlos the Jackal). Edgar Ramirez is astonishing in the leading role, and the series burns with a you-are-there immediacy. If you can’t quite make the full three-episode, six-hour commitment, Hulu has the 165-minute theatrical version as well. But make the commitment. It’s worth it.
Not much new on the Netflix this week (though some new titles are expected to appear on 5/1, to somewhat offset that big purge we told you about a couple of weeks ago), but here’s one that’s worth a look: Nikolaj Arcel’s 2012 historical drama, which was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at last year’s Academy Awards and Golden Globes (it lost to Amour, alas). And Hannibal fans, take note: Mads Mikkelsen, who plays Dr. Lecter on the NBC series, appears here in a starring role.
And the week’s other big new streaming release is… well, to be honest, not very good. Lee Daniels threw away whatever disciple he’d exhibited in Precious to tell this clinically insane story of murder, lust, and race relations in swampy ‘60s Florida. Much of its pre-release publicity was generated by a howler of a scene in which Nicole Kidman urinates on Zac Efron (to save him from a jellyfish sting, don’tcha know), but that’s just one of the many oddities in the movie. Yet it’s worth seeing for the sheer ballsiness of Kidman’s performance, for yet another fine piece of work by Matthew McConaughey, and for the spectacle of seeing a film so spectacularly out of its own mind. Who knows; this could be perfect for a future Bad Movie Night.
One more title to check out before the aforementioned May 1 purge: this 1974 buddy cop movie, forgotten almost immediately after its release, but discovered in recent years by ‘70s movie buffs during its lengthy run on Netflix streaming. It’s worth noting that there’s some rather ugly (yet sadly typical for the time) homophobia in its first act, but once you get past that stuff, it’s an enjoyably loose and energetic flick, with debuting writer/director Peter Hyams (who would later helm Running Scared, one of the best of the ‘80s buddy cop flicks) making particularly inventive use of long moving shots in his crackerjack chases. And it’s a fine reminder of a strange era where a guy who looked like Elliot Gould was considered a leading man. (Keep an eye out for several great character actors — including Sid Haig, Michael Lerner, Allen Garfield, and Antonio Fargas — in supporting roles.)