A few days ago, we sounded the alarm about a number of great movies vanishing from Netflix Instant, the result of an end-of-the-year changeover due to expiring contracts with content providers. But it’s time to look at the bright side: when it’s out with the old, it’s in with the new, and there are some very good films newly streaming (or re-streaming) on Netflix — which should come in pretty handy for those of you on the East Coast who are having a snow day today, or anticipating a dug-in weekend. So we’ve got great stuff from Robert De Niro, Seth Rogen, Susan Sarandon, Barbra Streisand, Christian Bale, Jack Lemmon, Ray Liotta, Shirley MacLaine, Molly Shannon, Audrey Tautou, Billy Wilder, Martin Scorsese, and more; check them out after the jump, and follow the title links to watch them right now.
With the new year barely underway, it seems like the perfect time to queue up Billy Wilder’s classic romantic comedy — since it culminates over the holidays and ends on New Year’s Eve. But the recommendation isn’t merely seasonal; this is a smart, sophisticated, way-ahead-of-its-time sex comedy, with Jack Lemmon in marvelous form as an office drone whose bachelor pad becomes an unlikely tool for business success, and Shirley MacLaine simply perfect as the object of his affections.
Callie Khouri’s Thelma & Louise screenplay was a bit of a big deal because a) it centered on two women, and b) both of them were complex, complicated characters. You didn’t see that a lot in 1991. Trouble is, in 2014, you still don’t see it. Back then, it took a male director (and one with a bit of clout) to get this picture made at a major studio. Would it be any easier for him today? Could it even happen? These questions are somewhat secondary to the matter at hand — that of Thelma & Louise’s overall quality as a motion picture — but then again, everything in this movie is all tied up into everything else: gender politics, violence, justice, how we perceive the women in our lives, how we perceive the women we see on screen. It’s a loaded gun of a movie, and it doesn’t always go off as cleanly or with as much accuracy as it (or you) might like. But it’s not often that a film takes the kind of risks that this one does, and it’s on target more often than not.
As the tsk-tsking and head-shaking over Martin Scorsese’s refusal to explicitly “condemn” the characters in his Wolf of Wall Street continues (alongside the weird assertion that by not doing so, he’s “glorifying” them), one wonders what such viewers would’ve made of his 1980 masterpiece, in which Scorsese and Robert De Niro dramatize the life of World Middleweight boxing champion Jake LaMotta — a violent, abusive, damaged mess of a man. But it’s a riveting portrait, given weight and humanity by Scorsese’s electrifying filmmaking and the deeply felt (and Oscar-winning) performance of De Niro, who famously trained for months to get in fighting shape, then ate his way through Europe during a break in shooting to put on 60 pounds for LaMotta’s later years.
Fourteen years later, it’s still kind of astonishing that this adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ novel got made at all — much less that it has become such a cult classic. Its perseverance probably has less to do with the source material than the film’s take on it; director Mary Harron and her co-writer Guinevere Turner (Go Fish) play up the dark comedy and their own feminist instincts, creating not only an indictment of ‘80s materialism, but of misogyny in popular (and business) culture.
Director Joe Carnahan is a tough nut to crack: his filmography is littered with junk like Smokin’ Aces and The A-Team, interspersed with great work like The Grey and this overlooked 2002 mood piece. It’s a sparse, fast-paced, tough-as-nails mystery, recalling the energy and edge of the great ’70s cop pictures, before their style and types were swiped and drained for bad television. Jason Patric is (as he so often is) quietly great, but the show-off role here goes to Ray Liotta, who does his best work this side of Goodfellas.
Fans of Enlightened (and we know a few of them) can drown their ongoing sorrows over that show’s cancellation by spending some time with this mostly forgotten 2007 feature written and directed by Enlightened creator Mike White. It’s a thoroughly bizarre drama with flashes of comedy and romance, though most of the love expressed in the film is towards animals — and not towards the twisted, tortured people who surround them. Molly Shannon is kind of amazing in the lead.
Just a couple of weeks back, we were pushing Joe Swanberg’s laid-back rom-com as a holiday break rental; good news if you slept on that recommendation, since it was just added to Netflix Instant. Terrific performances all around from its sterling cast of likable performers (Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick, and Ron Livingston), and director Swanberg’s style, which can often veer into dull navel-gazing and amateur theatrics, finds exactly the right pulse for this story of friends, lovers, and the grey areas in between.
Formulaic, predictable, and broad? Sure. But this mother-and-son comedy from director Anne Fletcher (The Proposal) and writer Dan Fogelman (Crazy, Stupid, Love) gains considerable traction from the formidable charisma and unlikely chemistry of stars Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogen. It’s not a great movie, but it’s a sweet and undeniably likable one — in other words, exactly the kind of flick that Netflix Instant is ideal for.
Beatles fans will be delighted by this documentary profile of Freda Kelly, the Fab Four follower from the Cavern days who became their fan club president and joined them on their ride to the toppermost of the poppermost. Kelly, who had never told her story before this film, is a fascinating figure, and her observer’s view almost becomes a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead for the group’s well-documented reign. A bit on the lightweight side, but a fun journey nonetheless.
Magician, actor, author, collector, historian, and raconteur Ricky Jay (familiar from his appearances in Magnolia, The Prestige, and several David Mamet films) is such a fine topic for a documentary that it’s a little surprising it took this long someone to make one. The focus, however, is not just the man himself, but his place in the history of his fascinations. His love and infinite knowledge of these worlds and lore gives the film a framework beyond mere biography; we’re immersed in a scene, a subculture, the gurus and the rivalries and the challenges. Plus, it’s a fine opportunity to enjoy not only his long-haired ‘70s television appearances, but clips from his wonderful specials, which should be easier to see than they are.