Here’s a cross-section of a number of mildly-to- solidly recommended films recently made available on Canadian Netflix. (You can click on the movie titles to read my original reviews where I’ve written them in the past.)
For me, Netflix is a go-to to revisit movies I’ve already seen or to give the odd TV series a try, but every once in awhile movies show up that never made it into cinemas. This month on my list it’s Christine, based on the true story of an American news reporter in the 1970s who shot herself on live television. It stars the fearless Rebecca Hall, who I think should have a Jessica Chastain-level profile. Also, Natalie Portman’s first film as a writer-director, A Tale of Love and Darkness.
Here we go on a few films I have seen:
Angry Indian Goddesses (2015)
This was a surprise at the 2015 Atlantic Film Festival, an Indian ensemble comedy that swiftly, inexorably, turns into a political, issue-driven tragedy. It explores the lives of seven women gathered together in gorgeous Goa for a wedding, but as we go along the film twists from a Bridesmaids style comedy to a deadly serious drama. It’s really something to see, a picture that so resists any easy categorization.
Deepwater Horizon (2016)
I didn’t have high hopes for this Peter Berg picture, but I was surprised to find it a gripping, compelling true-life thriller about the men and women who were working on the oil rig during that terrible environmental disaster. The film knows where to place blame, and makes for serious white-knuckle viewing, with big props to Mark Wahlberg and Kurt Russell.
I haven’t watched this since it first hit the screen, but I feel like it’s time for a revisit, especially since key supporting cast Anna Kendrick, Aubrey Plaza, Mae Whitman, and Brie Larson have all gone on to bigger things, while Michael Cera seems to have largely disappeared (he wrote, not yet having seen the new Twin Peaks). As a fan of the source comics I recall being a little underwhelmed by the film, despite its fizzy energy and the terrific Toronto locations. That said, I’m glad to see it show up on Netflix where I can give it a second chance.
The Truth About Cats & Dogs (1996)
I have no idea what happened to Janeane Garofalo. She vanished from my screens years ago, which doesn’t make much sense to me. Brilliantly funny, and a high profile comic actor and comedian in the 1990s, she was a delight in film roles and on talk shows. I had to check the IMDB to find out she’s still working a lot, but in pictures with titles like Werewolf Bitches From Outer Space where she played “Art Gallery Owner.” I’m being a little facetious… she has been on Inside Amy Schumer and Broad City, excellent TV shows. But still I miss her. The Truth About Cats & Dogs was maybe her biggest movie next to Reality Bites, and while it’s mostly forgettable fluff, she and Uma Thurman are good together. Last year we got Winona Ryder back in a big way thanks to Stranger Things. Can we get Janeane, too?
Fans of the popular TV series may not even realize it was based on a movie that came out more than 20 years before the show aired, directed by Ron Howard and written by the super-successful Hollywood comedy-writing team of the 1980s, Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandell. It’s a surprisingly effective picture that reaches for a kind of James L. Brooks-esque pathos and authenticity. It doesn’t quite get there, but features a few terrific performances and lots of laughs and conversations about real subjects, a lot more mature than you might expect. A young Martha Plimpton and Keanu Reeves are standouts, while Steve Martin does that harried thing he does.
Queen Of Katwe (2016)
A surprisingly effective sports drama from the Mouse House and directed by Mira Nair, it tells the true story of a young woman from tough circumstances in Uganda who finds herself becoming a chess champion, though she’s not necessarily emotionally mature enough to manage the weight of that kind of attention. It’s a great story quite well told, where lacking some grit it makes up for it in the performances.
Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
Hard to believe it’s already been five years since this unassuming dramedy from David O. Russell was a surprising Oscar candidate with eight nominations, and Jennifer Lawrence winning an Oscar for Best Actress as Tiffany. I haven’t revisited the film, but that’s partly because it lives so sharply in my memory. That’s true of a lot of Russell’s work. He’s an immensely talented writer who works well with ensembles and a strong mix of comedy and drama. I’ve often observed his films (Flirting With Disaster and Three Kings, for example) feel like they’ll fly apart at any second, but the good ones walk a line between order and chaos in their structure and in their characters’ stories. This is one of his best, with big props to Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, providing two amazingly vivid characters.
Magic Mike XXL (2015)
One of 2015’s best comedies, the sequel to the male stripper movie that made Channing Tatum a major star is structurally quite different—more of a road movie, really—but brought a lot of the same delight of the first film, the terrific characters, and, sure, the grinding, if you’re into that kind of thing. It also has the most perfect casting of Andie MacDowell I’ve seen in years.
Yes, the wonderfully deserving Academy Award winner for Best Picture from 2016 is on Netflix. If you haven’t yet seen it, you now officially have no excuse.