The month has begun, and you know what that means: there’s just a whole bunch of changes to the subscriptions. streaming libraries, so we have a fresh batch of new recommendations. This month offers a wide array, from classic comedies to recent prestige dramas to a whole lot of cheerleading movies, for some reason; here’s what we think you should seek out.
Caddyshack (available now) / A Futile and Stupid Gesture (available 1/26): Later this month, after its Sundance premiere, Netflix will stream their original production A Futile and Stupid Gesture, an irreverent and clever biopic of groundbreaking comedy writer Doug Kinney. And maybe it’s just a coincidence, but they’ve also restored one of his two produced screenplays to the service; the other was Animal House, so yeah, not a bad resumé.
Definitely, Maybe (available now): This one came and went without much noise back in 2008, but if you’re on the lookout for a legitimately charming romantic comedy – and there aren’t as many of those around as there used to be – queue it up. Ryan Reynolds is charismatic as hell (it’s one of his best turns to date), Abigail Breslin is terrific as his daughter, and you couldn’t ask for a better trio of co-stars than Rachel Weisz, Elizabeth Banks, and Isla Fisher.
The Godfather / The Godfather Part II / The Godfather Part III (available now): Three opinions, one a given, two controversial: The Godfather is pretty much a perfect motion picture, The Godfather Part II is a great movie but by no means a better one (its narrative and structural messiness is a sharp contrast to the sleek storytelling of the original), and Part III isn’t nearly as bad as its reputation (frankly, had Winona Ryder not dropped out at the last minute and caused the unfortunate Sofia casting, most of its problems would be solved). Carry on.
Bring It On / Bring it On: All or Nothing / Bring It On: Fight to the Finish / Bring It On: In It To Win It (available now): Three opinions, one a given, two controversial: Bring It On is pretty much a perfect cheerleading picture, All of Nothing is… ah, never mind, I haven’t seen enough of these to go through with the bit. Carry on.
Training Day (available now): The story always goes that the Academy gives the right actors their Oscars for the wrong movie, so the conventional wisdom these days is that Denzel Washington’s trophy for this one was actually a make-up for Malcolm X in 1992 (when the award instead went to Al Pacino, who was getting his as a make-up for any number of his ‘70s movies, and around it goes). But make no mistake: this is a powerful performance, in which Denzel turns the warmth and trust of his typical screen work inside out, to create an all but unrecognizable snapshot of everyday evil.
The Polka King (available 1/12): We first told you about this one when it debuted at Sundance – just after a particularly inauguration that made the story of a unscrupulous con artist who hoodwinks a bunch of Rust Belt working class folks seem particularly prescient. A full year later and shocker, it hasn’t exactly lost its relevance.
But I’m a Cheerleader (available now): Here’s a spicy change-up from the sequels if you’re looking for a Bring It On double-feature: Jamie Babbit’s uproarious 1999 gay conversion therapy comedy, with one of the wildest casts of the era: Natasha Lyonne, Clea DuVall, Melanie Lynskey, Cathy Moriarty, RuPaul, Richard Moll, Mink Stole, Kip Pardue, Michelle Williams, and Bud Cort. (Also on Hulu.)
Capote (available now): Philip Seymour Hoffman won his one and only, much-deserved Oscar for this 2005 drama, a Lincoln-syle “snapshot biopic” that profiles Truman Capote, but solely via the research and writing of In Cold Blood. It remains a miraculous performance, transcending imitation (and Capote was one of the most inimitable figures of his era) to craft a complex and morally complicated character, all while seeming to convey a devil-may-care breeziness. (Also on Hulu.)
Evolution (available now): Released in 2001 and quickly forgotten, your film editor has nonetheless retained a soft spot for this sci-fi comedy from director Ivan Reitman – a film not dissimilar to his Ghostbusters movies, blending Hope-and-Crosby style wit with effects that are both funny and impressive. And David Duchovny and Julianne Moore are a rather wonderful onscreen duo. (Also on Hulu.)
Revolutionary Road (available now): Hard on the heels of Titanic’s 20th anniversary, Prime adds the other DiCaprio-Winslet joint – a film that seems, in many ways, a direct rebuke to the lush romanticism of their big hit. It’s proven too mannered and studied for some, but the photography is gorgeous, Thomas Newman’s score is to die for, and performances are top-notch all the way across, particularly an Oscar-nominated, scene-stealing turn by Michael Shannon. (Also on Hulu.)
A Ghost Story (available 1/7): Available soon, at the click of a button, for all your pie-binging needs.
Wonderstruck (available 1/19): Todd Haynes’s lovely adaptation of Brian Selznick’s novel didn’t quite make the awards-season impact it was aiming for, and that’s a shame – it’s a sweet and moving little picture, and straight-up catnip for movie lovers.
Down in the Delta (available now): The great Maya Angelou directed only one feature film: this 1998 drama about culture shock, tradition, and the value of family, and it is (unsurprisingly) beautifully observed and deeply felt. And its cast includes some of the finest character actors around, including Loretta Devine, Mary Alice, Esther Rolle, Al Freeman Jr., and a quick but effective turn by Wesley Snipes (who also co-produced), and one of those Alfre Woodard leading roles that remind you of how many more she should’ve had.
Ninja III: The Domination (available now): This 1984 Cannon ninja sequel is also, somehow, a rip-off of Flashdance and The Exorcist. No, seriously. Words can’t quite do it justice, though we’ve certainly tried.
Punch Drunk Love (available now): Under the seemingly mismatched eye of writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson, Adam Sandler crafts a magnificently contained performance as an unstable entrepreneur who falls, quite unexpectedly, in love. Anderson does all sorts of strange, fabulous things with his camera and soundtrack to put us into his protagonist’s anxiety-ridden headspace, which can make for a harrowing watch. But when Sandler’s warmth and co-star Emily Watson’s elegance break through, this profoundly bizarre and experimental effort becomes a surprisingly universal paean to the first flush of love.
Zodiac (available now): The subject of David Fincher’s brilliant 2007 film is the Zodiac Killer’s reign of terror, sure — but it’s just as much about the notion of the procedural itself, about how the obsessiveness and drive of protagonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal, perfect) comes to mirror that of the serial killer he desperately wants to unmask. (Also on Prime.)
Wendy & Lucy / Meek’s Cutoff (available 1/15): Kelly Reichardt makes such thoughtful, deliberate movies that some have dismissed her work as too dull or too slow (presuming one sees “slow” as a pejorative, which it doesn’t have to be). Hulu is adding two of her best works, spotlighting not only her remarkable mastery of mood and tone, but the gifts of frequent star Michelle Williams.
Ingrid Goes West (available 1/22): More proof that “the awards conversation” is bullshit: nobody’s talking about Aubrey Plaza in this movie.
Contemporary Color (available now): Most movies can barely do one thing well; Turner Ross and Bill Ross IV’s 2016 effort is simultaneously a great performance movie, a great backstage movie, a great documentary, and a welcome tribute to the general wonderfulness of David Byrne.
Frank (available now): Even in 2014, it took real cajones to put a man as handsome as Michael Fassbender in your movie, and then keep a giant plaster head over his face for most of its duration. (Also on Hulu.)
Dear Zachary (available now): When filmmaker Kurt Kuenne’s childhood friend Dr. Andrew Bagby was brutally murdered by the mother of his unborn child, Kuenne set out to interview all of Bagby’s friends and family, in the hope that he could make a film that would let little Zachary know his late father, in some way. He ended up creating one of the most harrowing and heart-wrenching documentaries of our time.
Film Hawk (available now): Even the most knowledgeable of indie film fans may not recognize the name Bob Hawk, but for decades, he’s fundraised, produced, advised, and whispered, offering up guidance to new directors and championing small films to programmers and journalists who take his recommendations very seriously. Directors J.J. Garvine and Tai Parquet not only talk to several of the filmmakers he guided (including Kevin Smith, Rob Epstein, and Kimberly Reed), but craft an intimate personality profile, from his coming-of-age-while-coming-out story to his later struggles with depression.
Frailty (available now): When Bill Paxton died just under a year ago, there were plenty of tributes to his marvelous screen presence and personal charisma. Less was said about his genuine skill as a filmmaker, perhaps because he only accumulated a couple of feature credits – but one of them was this chillingly insightful portrait of religious fervor, which also features a stellar Matthew McConaughey performance, in a period when he was still mostly doing dumb rom-coms.
Pi (available now): I’d love to lay out a thoughtful capsule for this one, but ever since 1998, whenever I think of this movie all I can focus on is the image of the guy with the drill to his head, sorry.
Red State (available 1/8): Kevin Smith broke away from stoner comedy in a big, loud way with this 2011 horror shocker, roundabout-inspired by the Westboro Baptist Church, with a generous dash of Branch Davidians thrown in for good measure. John Goodman makes for a surprisingly credible man of action, but the showcase performer here is the late, great Michael Parks, whose Fred Phelps-esque patriarch is as creepy as you’d expect.