Ah, Netflix new releases! How they fascinate, frustrate, and fulfill. The "Recently Added" section of the Netflix menu can be a fickle creature. It yields just about every type of movie any given month — which basically means it doesn't discriminate based on how terrible something is. The terrible stuff gets in too. Want to see a dozen Nazi documentaries or A Madea Christmas? Netflix has you covered.
Netflix also uploads quality movies to "Recently Added," believe it or not. And, whether by sheer luck or not, the good stuff is ripe for the plucking. The list below is comprised of films mostly from the last two years. Netflix has a history of adding critically-acclaimed new independent films you've probably never head of and this month was no exception.
[The following movies were selected from the American Netflix menu. Apologies if any aren't available in your country.]
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz, Octavia Spencer, Kevin Durand, Chad Michael Murray
Bay Area residents are well familiar with the story of Oscar Grant (played by Jordan), a 22-year-old killed by a BART police officer on New Year's Day 2009. Fruitvale Station was the BART stop in Oakland where it happened and the movie recounts Grant's last day. Directed by first-timer Ryan Coogler, the movie focuses on the young man's life. It contains some of the best daddy/daughter moments in recent cinema history and it rings true. This is an emotional, raw film about real people and real tragedy. It's short and moves fast, but if you're looking for heavy drama, this is the one. [2013, 85 minutes]
Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Hilary Swank, Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto, Sonja Richter, John Lithgow, Tim Blake Nelson, Meryl Streep, James Spader, Hailee Steinfeld, William Fichtner
Alright, this movie sure as hell ain't for everyone, but I really like it. I view The Homesman as a kind of crazy cousin to the Coen brothers' western masterpiece, True Grit, from 2010. Swank plays a Coenese character, Mary Bee Cuddy. She's homely and still single, bossy, and desperate to marry. But her faith finds her the caretaker of three insane women who must be sent east. And luck lands her a travel companion: a grotesque named George Briggs (Jones, who also directs), whose life she saves. The Homesman is a feminist western, a rare genre film to focus on the struggles of the fairer sex in the old west. It is a harsh film of delicate language. And it's not for the faint of heart. Lives hang in the balance constantly and there is one disturbing scene involving the death of a child. So fair warning. This flick is not for movie night with Nana and Pop Pop. [2014, 122 minutes]
Starring: Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Ben Kingsley, Elle Fanning, Toni Collette, Jared Harris, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Richard Ayoade, Tracy Morgan
This is a movie with some serious voice work. The Boxtrolls also boasts some of the dirtiest, most hilariously-designed dolls in Laika's brief but amazing history. The stop-motion animation studio continues making some of the best movies, period, in any given year (Coraline, ParaNorman). In Victorian England, where the accents are amazing, Boxtrolls live filthy, but extraordinary lives beneath the streets of London. But on the surface, they are feared, the stuff of urban legend. And a young boy who grew up with the Trolls will convince the world they're peaceful. This is a movie of wonderful characters and imaginative set pieces. It's not as scary as Coraline or ParaNorman so younger kids can enjoy it with the family too. [2014, 96 minutes]
Starring: Karidja Touré, Assa Sylla, Lindsay Karamoh, Mariétou Touré, Idrissa Diabaté, Simina Soumare
If not for anything else, see this movie for the "Diamonds" scene. The Rihanna song is played in its entirety as the four main characters and best friends enjoy a night of freedom together in Paris. The scene, like the film, is artistic, energized, and the type of movie moment that makes you smile. And Girlhood is not all smiles. The film, about young black girls growing up in the hardened outskirts of France's most famous city, is a portrait of struggle and laughter, the duality of growing up. It focuses on Marieme (newcomer Karidja Touré), nicknamed "Vic," as she falls in with a new group of friends and grows up fast. The girls are fantastic, each specifically different and the actresses all bring that out. This is a movie of laughter, of argument, of dancing, of fighting, of love, and of friendship. [2014, 113 minutes]
Starring: Chow Yun-fat, Danny Lee, Sally Yeh, Kenneth Tsang, Chu Kong
For action buffs and especially fans of Quentin Tarantino or Luc Besson's Leon: The Professional, The Killer is required viewing. Directed by John Woo, perhaps Hong Kong's finest action director, the film is the story of a hitman (Chow) who accidentally blinds an innocent girl during a shootout and attempts to make amends... by killing more people. Less impressive than the story is the style of Woo. The Killer made him a star in America thanks to his frantic direction (his scenes contain more cuts than some movies) which changed how modern action would look for the next 20 years. Tarantino has referenced The Killer in his movies (Jackie Brown, Kill Bill), as has Robert Rodriguez (El Mariachi, Desperado), and fans of those filmmakers will immediately see why. [1989, 110 minutes]