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TOP TEN NETFLIX 2012
Mar 12

 

An old film professor of mine used to say, “Everyone in the world has two jobs:  what they do, and movie critic.” Even Truffaut was a film critic before he was Truffaut.  And as I steal from him often and without footnote, here’s my stab at Job #2.

Now that the Oscars are behind us, and you’re less likely to finally watch AMOUR than you are to seek out new ideas, I present some here:  Volume #1 of my TOP TEN FILMS on NETFLIX STREAMING.

I’ve heard people complain that what Netflix streams is limited and not current.  To that I say timeless is as current as it gets, and the offerings here are just that.  I encourage disagreement (though you’ll have few), but more importantly, I welcome your own suggestions for Volume #2.

I read a tweet recently that said, “Movies are shit.  Bacon is magic.” Well then, these movies are bacon!

 

JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI (2011, USA)

Jiro Dreams of Sushi allows you to imagine what it would be like to be the best in the world at something: the sacrifice, the almost monastic devotion it requires to be the single greatest practitioner in your chosen craft.  David Gelb’s debut feature is a portrait of Jiro Ono, an 85 year old sushi chef who runs a tiny restaurant in a subway in Japan.  A movie as much about food as about dedication and craft.  It will inspire you to find both your purpose in life and the nearest sushi restaurant with at least one Michelin Star.  Jiro has three.

WARRIOR (2011, USA)

A fight movie so skillfully made, so visually exciting, so emotionally complex, it’s too limited to call it a fight movie.  Tom Hardy is sensational and brutal. Nick Nolte mumbles his way back into magnificence.   Director Gavin O’Connor delivers a purposefully clichéd family drama with compassion and honesty.  And the fight scenes are fucking awesome.

NOBODY KNOWS (2004, Japan)

Ultra-naturalism at its finest and most devastating.  Inspired by actual events known in Japan as The Affair of the Four Abandoned Children of Nishi-Sugamo this story about a mother who deserts her children in a small Tokyo apartment is a quiet heart-wrenching masterpiece.  Director Hirokazu Koreeda is ridiculously subtle, measuring the details of the mother’s infrequent visits by her daughter’s fading nail polish. The performances of the children are perfect.  You’ll forget you’re watching a movie.  It’s better than cinema.  Or maybe that’s cinema.

POINT BLANK (2010, France)

This is how to make a thriller.  Start with a bad-ass chase.  Kidnap a dude’s pregnant wife.  Then put in another chase.  And another twist.  Then let them pile on in escalation and great style with little regard for plot or logic (though it all makes sense in the end).  Fred Cavaye’s fast paced film rises above your average chase thriller by creating rich, real characters.  By the end, you’re emotionally invested and you can barely catch your breath.  A lethal combination.

THE BLACK POWER MIX TAPE (2011, Sweden)

Stokely Carmichael.  Angela Davis.  Huey P. Newton.  Bobby Seale.   Stars of the Black Power political Movement who have faded into historical memory are brought back to electric life through recently discovered and never seen 16 millimeter footage taken by Swedish television journalists in the 1960’s and 70s.  Filmmaker Goran Hugo Olsson, who discovered the forgotten film, stitches it all together with contemporary audio commentary by Erykah Bahdu and Questlove, who lend their interpretations and provide a modern relevance.  Profound, furious, articulate, these icons will light a fire in your soul at the injustice in the world.

THE GREY (2011 , USA)

Liam Neeson survival movie.  It lacks a male rape scene, but there are wolves and they’re mean as shit.  Also, Joe Carnahan’s best work.  Mature, stunning, vital.

THE MAN FROM NOWHERE (2010, South Korea)

The Professional meets Taken.  Sort of.  Not highly original, plays the genre conventions safe, but director Lee Jeong-beom infuses every moment with an atypical ferocity and tension.  The story of a man hell bent on revenge and out to save a little girl is so rich in characters and momentum that you’ll hardly notice the sentimentality that creeps in when things get tender.  And since that happens so infrequently, you might as well enjoy the unnecessary slo-mo and syrupy music when it does.  The title is reminiscent of the best of Sergio Leone and the Eastwood figure here has no faith in the local authorities when a little girl who he’s befriended is kidnapped by a local gang who frames him for her disappearance.  So he takes matters into his own hands, which incidentally are literally scarred with the suggestion of a violent and well-trained past.  Won Bin is tremendous in the lead role, and even better when you realize he played the handicapped son in Bong Joon-Ho’s Mother.  This thing is not only guns blazing, but contains the best knife fight I’ve seen on film in as long as I can remember.  And I can’t remember any other knife fights.  Besides Eastern Promises, Desperado and Commando.

 

THE PASSION OF ANNA (1969, Sweden)

The final film in Bergman’s “island trilogy” after Hour of The Wolf and Shame, The Passion of Anna is a poignant psychological exploration that moves more with the rhythms of life than the rhythms of drama.  All three films explore the nature of human isolation, but this one does it in a middle-class setting with desperate, lonely, defeated characters.  Sounds depressing.  But instead, it’s alive.  The passion of the title is not sexual, but rather refers to a kind of spiritual exhaustion that comes when you realize it is impossible to be alive and keep your purity or even any consistency.   Bergman’s third color film, shot by the incomparable master Sven Nyquist (who in addition to shooting almost all of Bergman’s films, went on to shoot The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Crimes and Misdeameanors, Sleepless in Seattle, and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape), The Passion of Anna is a work of sustained richness and drama with no discernible climax.  It just sort of is.  Like life.

HEAVENLY CREATURES (1994, New Zealand)

If you haven’t seen Peter Jackson’s stylish, kinetic, haunting masterpiece, it’s time.  This mesmerizing portrait of two girls in 1950’s New Zealand who form an intense and unhealthy bond which ultimately leads to disaster, introduced Kate Winslet to the world and established the 33 year old Peter Jackson as a cinematic force to be reckoned with.  By adding an almost operatic flare and dark comedy to an otherwise gruesome tale, he turns this into a work of pure imagination.  As a bizarre and ironic postscript, the release of Heavenly Creatures in New Zealand created quite a media stir as journalists went in search of the two women the film is based on: though Pauline was never found, Juliet Hulme was discovered in Scotland where she is a bestselling murder mystery author.  I saw this movie in my first semester of film school and began to understand maybe for the first time the freedom one has with a camera to tell a story.  Seeing it again was a much needed act of re-inspiration.

GHOST (1990, USA)

It’s free.  It’s amazing.  Whoopi Goldberg wins an Oscar for her performance.  You love it.  Ditto.

 

 

 

 






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