10 Films to watch on Netflix
Netflix is probably the biggest and most well-known and subscribed-to of all the streaming services, and yet it has never quite hooked me the way it hooks other people. Perhaps that is because it has historically focused on television rather than film, and, though its film collection is now relatively large, it still takes the populist approach of majorly favouring more recent films instead of curating an extensive back-catalogue. That being said, with Netflix’s increasing forays into the production of film, they are starting to carve their own unique mark on the cinematic landscape and provide the dream duality of decent budgets and relative creative freedom. Thus, despite all the naysayers who think all films should be theatrically released (and whom I don’t entirely disagree with, for nothing can match the collective experience of seeing a film for the first time on the big screen in a cinema space), Netflix is actually providing a great service to the cinema industry and making millions in the process – a win-win for all parties, especially during the pandemic.
As for its user interface, the familiarity that many will have with it works in its favour, but it is far from perfect. It is of boundless frustration to me that so many of the films on Netflix that I want to see seem hidden within its depths. This is even true of new releases – to name just a selection, none of Malcolm and Marie (Barry Levinson), Pieces of a Woman (Kornél Mundruczó), Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (George C. Wolfe), or Hillbilly Elegy (Ron Howard) appear on its homepage for me despite being very recent additions which are being much-discussed in awards season. The fact that I have to use the search function to find these films is a real disappointment, and something Netflix really need to address. But don’t worry, if you are willing to search for them, there are plenty of treasures on Netflix, and here are 10 of the best…
Galaxy Quest (Dean Parisot, 1999)
A mash-up of two of my favourite genres, comedy and sci-fi, Galaxy Quest is the perfect send-up of Star Trek nerdiness whilst it simultaneously wraps you up in the warm blankets of that fandom. Highlights of Parisot’s film include Sigourney Weaver riffing on her stereotypical sci-fi roles, Sam Rockwell as the expendable crewman/comic light relief, and the late, great Alan Rickman in one of his hammiest roles ever. What more could you possibly want from a movie than that?
A Beautiful Mind (Ron Howard, 2001)
A Best Picture Oscar winner should need no introduction, and yet A Beautiful Mind has fallen from the public memory perhaps more than any other winner of the last 20 years. This is a travesty because it is one of the best, a film that combines clever mathematical theories with debilitating mental illness and manages to make the experience thoroughly engaging and deeply emotional. Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly give top, top performances as the film’s central couple, and, in an admittedly small field, A Beautiful Mind is almost certainly the greatest film about maths ever to grace a cinema screen.
Easy Rider (Dennis Hopper, 1969)
If you dig deep enough under the surface on Netflix, you can finally unearth a truly revolutionary work of cinema. Easy Rider was one of the foundational works of a new wave of American cinema in the late 1960s and 1970s, a period in which directors were given greater freedom since the studio’s formulaic offerings were no longer attracting sufficient audiences. Hopper’s film, in which he also stars alongside Peter Fonda, was one of the best films to come out of this period – a drug-fuelled journey of two bikers through America, lacking purpose but making up for it with an abundance of style. Easy Rider is a film with great importance in cinema history, but is also a captivating watch, particularly if you want to see something a little different, a little more experimental, and a little more trippy than standard Hollywood fare.
The Prestige (Christopher Nolan, 2006)
Probably my favourite of Nolan’s masterful filmography, The Prestige is a film that keeps you on your toes, with twists and turns that enrapture you right until the very end. Its magical concept provides the ideal canvas for Nolan’s inventive mind and with a relatively small cast who each turn in excellent performances, from Christian Bale to David Bowie, Hugh Jackman to Michael Caine, I struggle to imagine who could possibly not enjoy this film in some way. If you have never been lucky enough to see The Prestige, I cannot recommend it highly enough, but expect the unexpected and be aware that your mind is about to be blown.
Shutter Island (Martin Scorsese, 2010)
Probably my favourite of Scorsese’s masterful filmography, as controversial a statement as that is, Shutter Island is a movie that has everything. It is dark and mysterious, painfully tense and overflowing with suspense. It is a gripping tale of conspiracy and insanity. And then comes the final twist which turns the movie on its head, elevating an excellent film into the stratosphere as its heart-breaking conclusion plays out, leaving you as a viewer wondering which side of its final dichotomy you’d choose. This is a film that makes you question, if it came down to it, could you face up to the consequences of the greatest mistakes you have made in your life?
Seven (David Fincher, 1995)
Probably my favourite of Fincher’s masterful filmography, Seven is a film that lies on the boundary of buddy-cop thriller and torture-porn horror. Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman are an eminently watchable crime-fighting duo as they hunt the culprit of a spree of vicious murders, but are they themselves safe? This is not a film for the feint-hearted, but if you don’t know the final twist already, then boy do you have a treat ahead of you, just make sure you watch it soon before somebody spoils the ending.
Burn After Reading (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2008)
Probably my favourite of the Coen Brothers’ masterful filmography, Burn After Reading is just so silly and yet it’s almost addictive to watch the likes of Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand, George Clooney and John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton and J.K Simmons all playing quite ridiculous characters with straight faces. The dialogue is brilliant, the physical acting is brilliant, the increasingly ludicrous situations the characters end up in are brilliant. It’s all so absurdly brilliant, and unlike many of the Coen Brothers’ more dramatic films, Burn After Reading sticks the ending, leaving you satisfied and laughing for the rest of the day.
Music and Lyrics (Marc Lawrence, 2007)
One of my greatest guilty-pleasure movies, Music and Lyrics is a typical Hugh Grant chick-flick and yet it is genuinely up there amongst my favourite films of all time. Whether it is the catchy songs contributed by the late Adam Schlesinger, the electric chemistry between Grant and Drew Barrymore or the familiar comfort of the classic Hugh Grant one-liners, something about this film has captured my heart, and I want you to love it too.
Hereditary (Ari Aster, 2018)
Goodness me this film is creepy. The directorial feature debut of Aster, Hereditary tells the story of a weird family in suburban America who are harbouring a dark genetic secret. Coupled with Aster’s second effort Midsommar (2019), which is available over on Amazon Prime Video, the director has established himself as his own sub-genre of horror, with his long, uncompromising takes and penchant for slow-burn mysterious happenings. Watch both, for they break new ground in the horror genre, but make sure you are prepared, because much like Seven, these films are not for the easily frightened.
Life of Brian (Terry Jones, 1979)
Perhaps this list leans a little heavily towards comedy, but you can’t deny the brilliance of Monty Python. Sure, their flavour of humour isn’t for everyone, but for those who get it, the troupe are an endless fountain of funny, and never are their talents more clearly on display than in Life of Brian. From that Bond-like title song to Biggus Dickus with a quick trip to space somewhere in-between, this is a film that reimagines the story of Jesus Christ in the most hilarious of manners, ridiculing religious fanaticism and managing to infuriate many of those fanatics in the process – a job well done all round.