Ah, Netflix: the king of on-demand streaming. How many times has this website inexplicably caused you to dump hours and hours into binge-watching a T.V. show? Please tell me I’m not the only one who has found himself saying, “that’s definitely the last episode for today,” only to let another one auto-play? I honestly cannot put into words how amazingly epic Netflix is for casual and hardcore television fans alike. Yet, I also find this site rather odd. There is absolutely no doubt that if you want to watch the entirety of “The Office” or “Breaking Bad,” Netflix is the place to be. But when it comes to full-length movies, Netflix falls short. Yes, it has a few classic and recent hit films for subscribers to enjoy, but I constantly find myself combing every genre category for something new to watch only to say “screw it, I’ll just watch the entirety of ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’ for the one-hundredth time.” I know I can’t be the only one with this frustration, so I decided to compile a small list of films that many Netflix subscribers probably haven’t seen. If you’re reading this online, feel free to add to this list and help us all conquer boredom (or finals procrastination) with some great feature-length films.
Chrisopher Nolan’s first written/directed screenplay easily makes my list of movies to watch. It follows the struggles of Leonard Shelby, a man who has suffered a traumatic head injury while defending his wife from home invaders. His injury renders him incapable of converting short-term memory into long-term memory (basically Drew Barrymore in “50 First Dates”). Consequently, Shelby’s wife is killed in the struggle. In order to find the killers and avenge his wife’s death, Shelby tattoos himself with several pieces of information that will help guide him to the truth behind the fateful night he can never recollect.
I will say this right away: do not watch this movie late at night. If you even doze off for a second, you will find yourself lost in a narrative that alternates between chronological and reverse chronological order. In a nutshell: the story arc of this movie is like “Inception” on steroids. With that said, if you’re up for a mind-bending journey that will captivate you until the end credits, “Memento” is the movie for you.
Many of us have experienced the hilarity that is the Upper Midwestern accent: a lot of “you betcha’s” and “don’tcha know’s.” Now, combine this dialect with a crime-drama. What do you get? A darkly humorous movie called “Fargo,” made by the Coen brothers. In North Dakota, a man named Jerry Lundergard is in some deep financial trouble. Jerry concocts a plan to have two incompetent criminals kidnap his wife in order to ransom a tremendous amount of money from her wealthy father. After the job is done, Jerry and the perpetrators plan to split the money and part ways. From the moment that this insane scheme gets underway, things go from bad to worse. A police officer and two innocent men are killed during the kidnapping. This forces Frances McDormand, a tenacious (not to mention very pregnant) police sergeant to attempt to solve the three murders in her district.
“Fargo” creates a world with so many colorful characters and shocking developments that you cannot help but become absorbed in the crazy premise. If I could describe this movie in two words, I would choose “quirky” and “brilliant.” The odd humor of this film relies on the great performances from each of the actors. The authenticity of life in North Dakota/Minnesota is captured so well here that it’s hard to believe that none of the actors hail from this part of the country. Additionally, this film is brilliant because all of the funny, light-hearted moments throughout the film become starkly and artfully juxtaposed with a poignant and introspective tale. This becomes especially clear by the end of the film, when a certain character gives a very simple and very memorable monologue. To sum up, this trip into the cold north of Fargo, North Dakota is well worth the time of any viewer.
#3. “End of Watch”
I never thought a buddy cop movie could have such an effect on me as a viewer. This is not your run of the mill crime film for a number of reasons, chief among them being that it’s a found footage film. Throughout the entirety of the film, we see through the lens of a hidden camera placed on the chest of officer Brian Taylor who is filming his daily exploits as a South Central Los Angeles cop for a night class film project. This plot device works on two fronts: to allow “End of Watch” to become a self-referential (aka “meta”) abstraction of film itself and to allow the audience to become restricted within the thoughts and senses of Officer Taylor. Along for the ride is Officer Taylor’s best friend/partner, Miguel Zavala. Together, not only do these characters help quell the rampant gang-related crime of their district, but they also engage in hilarious, and sometimes very poignant, conversations during down time.
By the film’s end, we as viewers become extremely invested in both of the titular characters. This effect is due in part to the POV/hidden camera work, which forcibly places viewers in every single moment of the film, and in part to the incredible performances given by Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña. In short, these guys were born to be on screen together. From the clever banter to the intense chase scenes sprinkled throughout the narrative, I was hard-pressed to find a single moment where I realized that the movie is not actually a documentary style film project. This movie is a visceral, intense and overall heartfelt journey of two best friends who always have each other’s back no matter the danger.
#4. “Cabin in the Woods”
At a glance, “Cabin in the Woods” seems to be a cliché horror film: a group of college-aged friends decide to take a weekend camping trip at a cabin in the middle of the woods. Each character has a generic horror genre identity: including the sexy “cheerleader-type” ditz, her dumb-as-rocks jock boyfriend, the comic-relief pothead, the good girl and the wild card love interest. From the classic tropes of the horror genre, we expect several things to happen along the way to this group of friends, including the introduction of some sort of crazed killer that will pick off each character one-by-one until there are at most two left (usually including the good girl character). Essentially, this is very accurate to the actual plot of the movie. Funnily enough, that’s the point. This film represents the single greatest farce of the horror genre to date, expertly playing with audience expectations in a way that has not been accomplished since “Scream,” the ultimate satire on the generic high school slasher film. I refuse to get into specifics of the film’s clever twist, but I will say that there is more to the tragic situation of this generic group of doomed teenagers.
Although I won’t reveal anymore about this sly film, I assure everyone reading this that “Cabin in the Woods,” co-written by Joss Whedon, is well worth the watch. The greatest thing accomplished by this film is the blend of laugh-out-loud comedy and outright gruesome violence. I found myself laughing hysterically at what I was watching on-screen while simultaneously averting my eyes when another character bit the dust. Out of all of the movies on this list, “Cabin in the Woods” is probably the most overlooked film on Netflix. Watch it immediately and I promise you will be pleasantly surprised.