As the unveiling of our “Best Movies of 2015” list inches closer – I know, you’ve all marked your calendars, and don’t forget that going to bed early the night before means it gets there sooner – and our lists of runners-up continue, we offer up a little something for those of you with limited funds, limited time, or limited access to the big year-end flicks: ten great movies you can watch on Netflix from the comfort of your own home, this very minute, by simply clicking the title.
All of the talk about the groundbreaking nature of writer/director Sean Baker’s casting and storytelling — it’s a story of transgender sex workers, played by novice trans actors — make this summer sleeper sound like some sort of Important Mediation on Timely Issues. But don’t get it twisted; it’s much more popcorn than cultural vegetables. With its collapsed time frame, loosey-goosey energy, and earthy humor, Tangerine is a One Crazy Night movie, a daytime After Hours defined by its knowing relationships with its lived-in locations and idiosyncratic characters.
Writer/director Peter Strickland hand-crafts a loving, sexy, fragrant (as in, there’s a perfume credit) ode to the Euro-sex era, when artisans like Radley Metzger and Jess Franco were making softcore films that told real stories, and were also steaming hot. Here, he delves into a sub-dom relationship between an older and younger woman, examining how a dynamic that initially seems to add spice ultimately becomes an obligation. It’s a bit of a miracle, really; he makes a film that takes these women and their relationship seriously, while still delivering the required doses of lingerie-clad eroticism and subliminal thrills.
Co-writer/director Dave Boyle seems to spend the early sections of this compelling indie pic channel surfing between two movies: a back-roads noir in the Blood Simple tradition about a murder in a small town, and a quiet drama about a mystery novelist drawn to an enigmatic man. But as with so many great mysteries, the two involving yet seemingly unrelated tales intersect, and that’s far from the last surprise in this gripping thriller. The result is leisurely paced yet dizzyingly complex, endlessly involving and utterly unpredictable.
The latest from Mark Hartley, the documentarian of choice for trash cinema (his credits include Not Quite Hollywood and Machete Maidens Unleashed!), is a deep dive into the rich story of the notorious mini-studio run by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, which employed everyone from Charles Bronson and Chuck Norris to Jean-Luc Godard and John Cassavetes. It is, as per usual for Hartley, a giddy, lightning-paced celebration of cheerfully terrible movies, lousy with great clips and hilarious trailers, as well as countless legendary stories about their productions. And it’s not just a museum piece, either; between the lines, it’s a sly commentary on how the cousins’ ostensibly vulgar methodology has, in many ways, become the Hollywood norm.
Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville’s film does what the best documentaries do: It tells a fascinating story that most of us don’t know, it shades in the contours of that story with context of the time and place, and it provokes thought on how that past relates to our present. Detailing the 1968 prime-time debates between pundits Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley – thrilling to watch, but a worrisome harbinger of where politics (and television’s coverage of it) were going – Enemies moves fast without skimming, zipping through time and filling in blanks, revealing the unexpected similarities behind the personas. Smart, thorny, expert documentary filmmaking.
For the past decade or so, Bobcat Goldthwait has magnificently redefined himself, transforming from a pigeon-holed stand-up and Police Academy supporting player to one of our most interesting and unpredictable indie filmmakers (via the terrific World’s Greatest Dad and the ballsy God Bless America, both also streaming on Netflix). For his first documentary, he returns to his stage roots, profiling Boston comedy king Barry Crimmins, a practitioner of hard-edged political commentary in an era when audiences were mostly getting gags about airplane food. A mere snapshot of that period and Crimmins’ place in it would’ve been interesting enough; Goldthwait and his subject burrow deeper, into the personal tragedy that turned his subject from a comedian and commentator to an activist and advocate. It’s an unpredictable and invigorating film, both rabble-rousing and moving.
The penultimate film from the late, great Albert Maysles profiles style icon and famed clotheshorse Iris Apfel, dubbed “Manhattan’s geriatric starlet” after a wildly popular one-woman show at the Met. The 90-year-old sparkplug has a fascinating biography, but as per his usual style of cinematic conversation, Maysles is more interested in just hanging out with these interesting people, soaking up their lives, tagging along as she shops and chats and haggles (she’s just as likely to find something at a Florida swap meet as on Fifth Avenue). And while the film was completed long before Maysles’ death, it arrives – via her husband’s 100th birthday celebration – at some unexpectedly poignant material about one’s golden years. “You made it this far,” Maysles tells Carl, off-camera. “So you can go further. That’s my idea.” Amen, Al.
After years of spinning her wheels on How I Met Your Mother and holding clipboards while looking concerned in Marvel projects, this was the year that Cobie Smulders finally got the chance to do some acting. Two chances, in fact; in Andrew Bujalski’s quietly subversive love-triangle rom-com Results, she plays a type-A fitness trainer whose veneer of control over her schedule and health hides the heart of a laid-back stoner, and in Kris Swanberg’s thoughtful and warm Unexpected, she plays a 30-year-old white inner city teacher who connects with a 17-year-old black student thanks to their unplanned pregnancies, gracefully dodging countless white-savior land mines. Both are terrific performances, in exactly the kind of modest movies that are becoming catnip for actors with sitcom and/or blockbuster pedigrees.
It seems as though I was just recommending this one yesterday (oh wait, it was literally yesterday), so to avoid merely repeating myself, I’ll merely note it’s a film where the most powerful moments happen between the lines—the unspoken tension between Nelly and friend Lene (what’s their history, exactly?), the way her former husband looks at her like he’s seen a ghost, the way she finds herself not only making excuses for him, but to him. And there’s that Nina Hoss performance, absolutely riveting, as she shows a woman putting herself back together, only to tear herself apart and start over.