Netflix Instant Streaming is like the back 5 rows of the video store. After sifting through mountains of crap, you’ll occasionally find a nugget of gold. If you’re as much of a film nut as me, this is probably what you spent most of your time doing back in the old days when a movie was a black plastic brick with two white wheels in it.
If you’re my age and have a moderately disposable income, then you most definitely already subscribe to Netflix, BUT you haven’t returned that DVD sitting on your coffee table in four months (that’s gonna cost you come September) and it will soon be time to make a decision as to whether to shell out the dollars for the ability to receive DVDs in the mail OR wade into the uncharted and vast waters of Netflix Instant Streaming. Chances are, you watch a lot of Instant Stream, but you’ve exhausted your list of recognizable movies. You’re probably at this point deep into the documentary section, watching a Ken Burns special on Frank Lloyd Wright or somesuch nonsense and pretending to enjoy being ‘informed’.
Yeah, keep telling yourself that. The truth is you really do want to watch good movies that will enrich your cultural consciousness, but you just don’t know the good from the bad because you’ve dedicated your time to other things, like, you know, life, work, etc. You like movies, you feel enriched when you see good ones and you are open to discovering new ones, but the main thing you want to discern is which ones are worth your time, and you find yourself wishing you could just stream that new Kate Hudson movie that just came out on DVD and you’re contemplating spending an extra $4.99 for an OnDemand watch.
FEAR NOT, FRIENDS. I am here to save you. As one who has sifted through (most) of what Netflix has to offer, I am here to provide you with a series of Top 5 Best Films on Netflix lists (’cause top 10s are for pansies) organized by genre to guide you through your viewing experience. You may recognize some titles in here, but unless you’re a film nerd like me, you likely haven’t heard of most of these.
The Netflix Top 5s Part 1 – Drama
5. The Verdict
Has the late, great Paul Newman ever made a bad movie? I haven’t seen one yet. The Verdict is Sidney Lumet’s dark courtroom drama about a lawyer who’s ambition to do the right thing is only outweighed by his serious lack of self-confidence. Newman is as always terrific, playing a distinct character to its fullest.
4. Enchanted April
Mike Newell’s romantic and spiritual tale of a band of Londoners on Holiday in Italy is fresh and rewarding every time I watch it. It’s a character drama of the highest order. Alfred Molina turns in a crackerjack performance as a doddery, unsophisticated husband, Jim Broadbent and Polly Walker also perform to their highest abilities. It’s one of those movies whose positive message goes beyond the superficial and tugs at your soul in a way that “feel-good” can’t even come close to describe. It’s pure feeling.
3. Dead Man
Johnny Depp and Jim Jarmusch. A match made in post-modern heaven. This abstract Western follows a distinctly Bergman-esque path. The parallels to The Seventh Seal are unavoidable, but the film stands on its own as a bizarre journey into the soul. Its long list of cameos helps each narrative ‘skit’ along well. By the time you get to Iggy Pop in a bonnet you’ll finally be convinced that anything can happen and anyone can show up in this very Weird West. Add a haunting, all-electric Neil Young soundtrack and you’ve got one unforgettable mind trip.
2. The Road Home
Probably the best romance I’ve ever seen. The cinematography is astronomically gorgeous. The rural Chinese setting isn’t just gorgeous, it feels real. Zhang Yimou directs Zhang Ziyi in her best role ever (meaning the only role where she’s required to act rather than just stripping her clothes off). It’s such a simple tale that it might be in danger of being boring if it wasn’t for the constant sense of expectation. This is a film about devotion and being eager for love, straining against limitations of social formality, though it’s never saccharine or rebellious. It’s sweet and heart-wrenching and it’s got the performances and style to back it up.
1. La Dolce Vita
Cinephiles will give this one a big ‘duh’, but I first saw this Fellini classic on Netflix without having heard much about it before. La Dolce Vita is the mother of all dramas. Its style is still being cribbed. Marcello the playboy in his black suit and sunglasses is eternally cool. Beyond the style, there’s a thick landscape of cultural and moral anthropology charting the obsessions of humanity and the reasons why people live. Love, family, career all come under Fellini’s careful scrutiny as well as the desire to just get away from it all and start over. Fellini by turns, makes you want to live in his Dionysian vision of post-war Europe, then he breaks your heart, wears you out and finally waves goodbye in perhaps the greatest closing scene ever filmed. La Dolce Vita is absolutely essential viewing for the human race.