Scouring the deepest depths of Netflix's Browse menus can lead to some pretty dark places. The Sinful Nuns of St. Valentine? God's Precious Jewels starring Robin Givens? Has anyone in the history of clicking ever clicked on either one of those? I truly hope not.
In search of a better movie-watching world and a new hope, in general, I set out to prove Netflix isn't just a vapid wasteland of crap piled on more crap. On the contrary, there are tons of great movies on Netflix and there's no way you've seen them all.
Independent films rarely come to small towns so a giant chunk of the best movies in any given year end up on Netflix, doomed to be ignored thanks to ignominious cover art and/or any number of unfair reasons. That's not right. Let's correct these wrongs.
If you base your movie hunts on directors, screenwriters, cinematographers, and even certain producers, you'll be less disappointed in the films you choose. Actors, with very few exceptions, will appear in anything. Seeing every Ewan McGregor movie is no great feat. You're much safer betting on a director like say, John Hughes.
That's just the background for how I approach Netflix. I like directors who make good movies. I also bookmark instantwatcher.com and whatsonnetflixnow.blogspot.com to stay on top of what's moving through the site. Here are five solid films you would've or likely have passed over during a movie hunt. They have dumb titles, ludicrous sounding plots, and ridiculous cover art, in some cases, but they're more than that. Watch them today. All of them.
Another dippy Nic Cage movie, right? Terrible title, correct? Nope, Joe is directed by the talented David Gordon Green (All the Real Girls, Pineapple Express), it's based on a novel by Larry Brown, and it's steeped in real world backwoods intensity. Cage plays the title character, a reformed convict just trying to lead a normal life in small town Texas. But a new member of his crew, a hard-working teen (Sheridan) who comes from abuse and nothing else jump starts his life. The boy is in trouble and Joe has to decide how to deal with wanting to do the right thing. This is an honest, violent story of hard lives and hard people in the dusty corners of America. You will not find the usual Nicolas Cage silliness here.
Directed by Jerry Rothwell and Louise Osmond
This is one of my favorite documentaries. I love films about madness. And I love old British guys telling stories, and this film has both. Cursed with an uninteresting title, Deep Water is anything but. It's a recollection of the 1969 Sunday Times Golden Globe Race, a competition between eight single-handed sailors trying to become the first person to circumnavigate the globe non-stop. The film focuses especially on Donald Crowhurst, the least-experienced and least-likely participant, who could not handle the solitude of the voyage, went mad, and disappeared, leaving his family behind. Aside from the incredible facts of Crowhurt's journey, Deep Water has a real voice and hypnotizing tone.
Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon
Directed by Mike Myers
If you don't love documentaries, I can't help you. This is the golden era. Supermensch isn't the most appealing of titles, but do not pass this one up. Directed by Mike Myers, the film is the life story of legendary music agent and close Myers confidant, Shep Gordon. This is a man who hung out with Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, managed Alice Cooper and Groucho Marx, dated Sharon Stone during Basic Instinct, and basically lived the most interesting life in the history of life. For anyone who drools over Hollywood insider info and gossip, this is next-level stuff, it's intensely, endlessly fun to watch.
Citizen Ruth marked the debut of of Oscar winning writer/director Alexander Payne (Sideways, Nebraska) and it's much more than the goofy 1996 poster and trailer make it out to be. The film lampooned the abortion debate at a time when sex and politics was all anyone talked about. But, forgetting the film's social commentary, Citizen Ruth is just a funny movie. Laura Dern plays a wasted mother of four whose latest pregnancy becomes the focus of a very public debate. She wants to get paid, but she'll have to pick a side to do so. Dern is great in the lead role and Payne's talent for sharp dialogue, although still in development here, is definitely apparent.
Starring: Pål Sverre Valheim Hagen, Anders Baasmo Christiansen, Tobias Santelmann
What the hell is Kon Tiki... amirite? Who would ever watch that? Well, ignore the title you don't understand, ignore the no name (mostly) Norwegian cast, and trust me. This is one of the best films of 2012 and one of the great sea-faring films of any year. Kon Tiki traces the expedition of Thor Heyerdahl and his crew, who crossed 4300 miles of the Pacific Ocean on a raft in 1947... a raft. The film is beautifully-shot, mostly on the water. And the voyage itself is a dizzying trial of storms and sharks, who attack the raft in the movie's best sequence. This is the second time I've repped this film in this column. I love it. Get on it everyone.