While Amazon Prime boasts 2015 movies like Ex Machina and Bone Tomahawk, Netflix does its best to keep up with some equally-great, but lesser known, flicks from last year. Actually, who knows if Netflix is doing its best. The past five months have seen a surprising amount of great movies leave the streaming service. Many subscribers are sick of losing so much while so little is added in return.
The thing is, there's still hope to be found on Netflix. The site gets a lot of movies no one has ever heard of and a lot of them are new. The fact is some of the best movies in any given year never come to theaters outside of cities and most people don't exactly read film reviews. A lot of writers champion these smaller films but that help only goes so far.
Hopefully, this article will help open some eyes as to what's out there. These are special films beloved by critics who need audiences to love and cherish them. Will you help?
[The following films are taken from Netflix's American menu. Apologies if any aren't available in your area.]
Directed by Christian Petzold
Phoenix appeared on more critics' Top 10 lists this year than movies like The Revenant, Creed, and even The Force Awakens. It's a dark and intense film of incredible emotional depth filled with characters with questionable motivations. Set in Berlin, a city of rubble after World War II, Nelly Lenz (Nina Hoff) has survived the Holocaust but not without a disfigured face. A friend helps her visit a plastic surgeon who can't make her look as she did before. Nelly is crushed but she sets out to find her lost husband, Johnny. She sees him in a nightclub, the Phoenix, but he doesn't recognize her and Nelly doesn't reveal who she is. Soon, he enlists her help in posing as his missing wife, i.e. herself, so she can collect her family's sizable inheritance which they'll split. As the story unfolds, it becomes harder to predict and these two actors become more fascinating as they walk lines of truth. It plays on some of the same themes as Vertigo, maybe the best film ever made.
People Places Things
Directed by James C. Strouse
At the opposite end of the spectrum from Phoenix, is People Places Things, a modern comedy about a dad whose life is upended by his wife's affair and the aftermath that ensues. Starring Jemaine Clement in normal guy mode, the movie rings true many times and is full of terrific character actors who all feed off one another. Clement is always worth the price of admission in my opinion. The Flight of the Conchords funnyman is responsible and goofy with his two young daughters and typically dry with everyone else. It's a blast watching him navigate the dating scene, especially with the mother (Regina Hall) of a student.
Directed by Sean Baker
Produced by the Duplass brothers, starring inexperienced transgender actresses Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, and shot with three iPhone 5s cameras due to budget constraints, Tangerine is one of the most critically-acclaimed films of 2015, even more so than Phoenix. How it was made is a fascinating story, but the product is even better. Shot with a fast-paced, frantic style by Baker, the movie shows another side of Hollywood where donut shops and laundromats are the hangouts and nobody comes to see your show. Rodriguez plays Sin-Dee, a prostitute who's just been released from prison. Informed her boyfriend and pimp Chester has been cheating, the livid ball of energy sets out to find him. Alexandra (Taylor) helps her as best she can but has a show to prepare for later that night. How this simple tale unfolds, with such style and authentic performances, is the movie's real accomplishment. It's totally original. (Warning: Red Band trailer ahead.)
Best of Enemies
Directed by Robert Gordon, Morgan Neville
This documentary about the 1968 televised debates between intellectual and author Gore Vidal and conservative pundit and National Review editor William F. Buckley Jr. is a fascinating film on multiple levels. First, it tells the inside story of the debates between two intellectual powerhouses who positively hated one another. And second, it tells the origin of the talking head-laden, opinion-based news telecasts of today. But the real thrill is the moment Buckley snapped and threatened Vidal live on the air after the latter called him a "crypto-Nazi." You'll see how two enemies shaped one another, how it affected their careers, and their personal lives.
Queen of Earth
Directed by Alex Ross Perry
Elisabeth Moss fans rejoice, this one is all hers. Well, I take that back. Queen of Earth belongs to Moss and Katherine Waterston equally. The two talented young actresses play best friends, Catherine and Virginia, who reunite at Ginny's lake house after Catherine breaks up with her longtime boyfriend. The film watches the relationship while flashing back to past moments at the house that come into play. Slowly, Catherine starts showing signs of going insane, and Virginia, doting and helpful at first, slowly realizes the past is gone and their friendship will never be the same. Anyone familiar with Perry will recognize the writer/director's intimate shooting style and fantastic dialogue. He's one of the brightest young filmmakers working today.