I spend most of my time looking for movies to watch with my
girlfriend on Netflix Instant. (She never likes what I have on
disc.) Unfortunately, good streaming movies are hard to find, and
when I examine bloggers' "Best of Netflix Instant" lists, I find
that I've already seen most of the recommended films.
Perhaps you're in the same boat. That's why I'm making my own
alphabetical list of recommendations for you. These are not
necessarily the 20 best movies that are currently streaming on
Netflix, but these are, in my view, the best ones that I think you
possibly haven't seen yet.
1. "David Holzman's Diary" (1967): This early mockumentary, one
of the first great American independent films, walks a thin line
between skewering the arty narcissism of its self-documenting
protagonist and embodying it - leaning, admirably, toward the
latter tendency. While conveying all the pain of introspection, it
communicates the spirit of its time and, simultaneously, speaks
almost directly to ours.
2. "The Deep Blue Sea" (2011): One of those period pieces about
a put-upon woman who's stuck in an unhappy marriage and
consequently ends up in an even unhappier affair. What's great
about this one is the thickly drab mise-en-scène by director
Terence Davies, who makes the story's misery palpable in postwar
3. "Galileo" (1975): One of 14 respectful stage adaptations
produced by the American Film Theatre in the 1970s, Joseph Losey's
film of Brecht's play is restrained and intelligent and, like the
other 13 films in the series, probably does justice to a work I'll
probably never get to see live.
4. "Gregory's Girl" (1981): Possibly the sweetest and most
charming teen movie ever made. Bill Forsyth will make you feel
better about human beings.
5. "I Am Love" (2009): The British actress Tilda Swinton plays
an Italian-speaking Russian woman in this Milan-set drama, and
that's not even the weirdest thing about it. Lush, over-the-top,
and melodramatic, it's perfect for anyone who ever wished Douglas
Sirk had made movies in Italian.
6. "Lymelife" (2009): Sort of a blue-collar version of "The Ice
Storm" - it feels more authentic for some reason. Features two
Culkin brothers for the price of one.
7. "The Man Who Fell to Earth" (1976): A pseudo-classic starring
David Bowie as frail alien visitor. Mopey, metaphysical sci-fi,
just a year before "Star Wars."
8. "Metropolitan" (1990): I thought this was an established
classic, but it somehow has fewer than 5,000 votes on IMDb. If you
haven't seen it, stop reading now and go watch it - unless you
don't like watching wealthy "WASPs" sit around and banter wittily,
in which case you should probably skip it.
9. "My Pal Trigger" (1946): I feel like some perfect blend of
American innocence and greedy,
we-need-to-make-three-of-these-by-next-week shoddiness went into
creating the B-level Westerns of the 1940s: they are storytelling
stripped (touchingly) of all complication, half by purity of vision
and half by cheapness and haste.
10. "Naked" (1993): Gritty '90s indie cinema - crime, poverty,
drugs, misogyny, violence. What sets this grim slice of urban
realism apart from its peers, aside from being even grimmer, is its
literary bent. Its protagonist's verbose monologues seem
preposterously unspontaneous as he delivers them, but ultimately
they're what you'll remember about this movie.
11. "Nothing Sacred" (1937): Carole Lombard was the true queen
of screwball comedies. This one takes place (partly) in
12. "Pina" (2011): I know nothing about modern dance. Still, I
found the stark, Beckettian set pieces in this Wim Wenders
documentary arresting. It even has a sense of humor.
13. "The Safety of Objects" (2001): One of several overwrought
suburbia-is-hell films released near the turn of the millennium. I
liked this one the best - it's more disturbing and more humane than
14. "SLC Punk!" (1998): I'm not sure how this comedy - a
memoiristic account of Salt Lake City's irrelevant '80s punk scene
- even got made. It's sometimes funny and sometimes idiotic, but
most of all it's an incredibly detailed picture of a time and place
no one else has ever bothered to document, and that's pretty
15. "Sleepwalk with Me" (2012): This one is a feature-length
dramatization of comedian Mike Birbiglia's standup act, which
sounds like it shouldn't work but does. It's also just about as
honest about contemporary romantic relationships as movies get.
16. "Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!" (1990): The film that made a star
of Antonio Banderas is as insane as its kidnapping protagonist. But
this is the reason we admire Almodóvar: the sheer imaginative
audacity of his storytelling (and of his color palette).
17. "Tiny Furniture" (2010): Lena Dunham's debut is, I guess,
almost the same thing as "Girls," but with amateur charm instead of
18. "What's New Pussycat" (1965): Clive Donner's mishandling of
29-year-old Woody Allen's screenplay was, to the writer's mind,
severe enough to convince him to direct his own scripts thereafter
- so we owe this film a large debt of gratitude. That said, it's a
funny movie, both in classic Woody Allen fashion and in that
madcap, slightly less amusing 1960s-ish manner where a bunch of
slapsticky people (including Peter Sellers, fortunately) are
chasing after each other for no good reason.
19. "A Woman Is a Woman" (1961): This early Godard is a happy
marriage between the French New Wave and the classic Hollywood
musical, and it's a hundred times more lovable than his far
20. "The Women on the 6th Floor" (2011): Few Americans paid
attention to this little comedy about a Parisian stockbroker
falling in love with an earthy Spanish maid, but it's better than
it looks. Though not as gauche as "The Intouchables," it does,
basically, posit that the lives of poor people are livelier and
somehow more authentic than "ours" are - yet the movie is really so
much kinder and more sensitive than its patronizing premise
If you've seen all of these, just go to a brick-and-mortar video
store. All in all, it's probably better than Netflix Instant. But
for those who haven't seen them all these 20 should keep you amused
for a while.