The Netflix Weekend Watchlist
1) Master of None (2015-2017) - I've been trying to space out the episodes of this Aziz Ansari helmed Netflix original, but they are just so easy to watch. I loved the first season and how it delved into topics which previously haven’t been explored on TV, and taught valuable life lessons in a way that avoids all clichés. This second season has really stepped up its game. With the first two episodes taking place in picturesque Italy, Ansari has combined the indulgent images of a cooking show with the incisive comedy the show is known for. Not to mention, it is nice to see a protagonist the audience can root for, and that actually succeeds in life.
2) Lovesong (2016) - I also plan to watch this less funny, but equally intriguing film that’s new to Netflix. It stars Jena Malone and Riley Keough as best friends who lose touch and go on a road trip together. From what I’ve read about the film, the plot is lacking, but the onscreen pair of Malone and Keough is magical.
1) Southpaw (2015) – A sports film (boxing) that is unapologetically cliché in its use of the genre’s formula, but that yields performances which are gut-wrenchingly on point. It’s your standard riches to rags to riches tale (i.e., a boxer at the top of his game loses everything and has to claw his way back to the top). I think Jake Gyllenhaal is one of the most dynamic actors in Hollywood right now, and I admire his ability to give himself over to the character, to submerge himself fully, which produces stunning emotional performances. Honestly, I don’t think there has been a film of his that I’ve disliked since Prince of Persia: Sands of Time (2010)—it was not good—but it also seemed to be a turning point for him. Love & Other Drugs (2010), Prisoners (2013), Nightcrawler (2014)—which is amazing and also available on Netflix—, Southpaw (2015), Everest (2015), and Nocturnal Animals (2016), were all fabulous and showcase his range of talent.
2) All We Had (2016) – So, I’m a fan of Katie Holmes…don’t ask me why…I’m really not sure. Maybe it’s my undying love for Dawson’s Creek or my sympathies and then cheers (when she left him) for her much publicized relationship with Tom Cruise. Either way, I’ve always enjoyed Katie Homes’ characters (i.e., brooding, dark, emotionally messy, sometimes quirky, and sometimes witty). However, I’ll be the first to admit that she does tend to gravitate towards the same roles over and over again…roles, if I’m being honest, that might be outside of her acting abilities. Regardless, I like the stories that she plays a part in telling; some of them have the feeling of stories that might otherwise have not been told (i.e., Pieces of April , Miss Meadows , Touched with Fire ). In that vein, All We Had, an adaptation of Annie Weatherwax’s novel of the same name, is Holmes’ first feature length directorial debut in which she also plays the lead; a down-and-out mother stuck in a perpetual cycle of trying to make good using what’s available to her (and going about it all wrong). This is a character driven film that offers up, in my opinion, a fairly interesting social critique on poverty and the women who experience it every day. It’s definitely worth checking out (and yay to supporting female directors!).
3) The Way (2010) – If you’ve enjoyed films like Wild (2014), Into the Wild (2007), or Chef (2014)—which is also on Netflix and 100% worth checking out…completely hilarious with a great cast, and an RDJ cameo—then you must check out The Way directed by Emilio Estevez and staring Martin Sheen. It’s a beautiful, engrossing, spiritually moving film (to clarify, it’s non-denominationally spiritually moving). Basically, [SPOILER] Tom (Martin Sheen) plays a too-busy ophthalmologist whose son (Emilio Estevez), a grad-school drop-out who travels the world convinced that life is about connections, dies at the beginning of his recent adventure, El Camino de Santiago. So, Tom has to go and identify/collect the body and decides to walk el camino for his son. If you’re wondering, El Camino de Santiago is a legit pilgrimage route that over 237,886 people walked in 2014. Along Tom’s journey he meets some interesting characters and life happens. Not always serious, the film is quite humorous and everyone from the Dutchman (Joost), to the Irish Writer (Jack) to the gypsies they dine with has an interesting story to tell.
4) Midnight in Paris (2011) – Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris is truly a remarkable film; deviating from the conventional romantic comedy, the film is a rom-com in which the love interest is a city at a particular time. Gil (Owen Wilson) is a writer who is infatuated with the Paris of the 1920s, and once upon a stroll he finds himself jettisoned to the very era he lusts after. The film sports an amazing cast: Rachel McAdams, Kathy Bates, Tom Hiddleston (as F. Scott Fitzgerald), and Adrien Brody (as Salvador Dalí)—to name a few—and is a delicious fix for any literary connoisseur. There’s something quietly magical about this film; it’s certainly one of Allen’s best.
1) Kubo And The Two Strings (2016) - The fourth feature length film from stop-motion animation studio Laika (following Coraline , ParaNorman , and The Boxtrolls ), Kubo and the Two Strings is a beautifully rendered story inspired by Japanese art and storytelling traditions. In the film, the young boy Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson) must quest to find the missing armor and weapons of his missing father, Hanzo (voiced by Matthew McConaughey), in order to defeat his evil grandfather, the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes). The film combines beautiful and innovative stop-motion animation with an emotionally complex narrative for an end result that is even more impressive than Laika's earlier films, especially considering that Kubo is the directorial debut of Travis Knight (CEO of the studio). Be sure to stay tuned through the credits for a haunting cover of "While my Guitar Gently Weeps" from Regina Spektor.
2) John Dies At The End (2012) - Based on a novel by Cracked editor and columnist David Wong, this low budget sci-fi horror film has all the trappings of a cult classic. Less than stellar critical reviews? Check. Very few household-name actors (except, of course, Paul Giamatti)? Check. Alternate dimensions, drug-induced hallucinations, evil supercomputers, and cheesy special effects? Check. I won't even try to explain the plot of this film, because I'm not entirely sure I understood it myself, but I can guarantee this film will at the very least entertain you and confuse you in equal measure.
3) Comet (2014) - Although the film received mixed reviews from critics and audiences alike, I found Comet to be a relatively refreshing take on the romantic comedy/drama genre. I don't want to give too much of the film away, but the story essentially follows the relationship of Dell (Justin Long) and Kimberly (Emmy Rossum) in a series of vignettes, flashbacks, and glimpses into parallel universes. Much like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), Comet both revels in and deconstructs the trope of pessimistic-man-meets-manic-pixie-dream-girl. And even though the film occasionally devolves into cliche, Long and Rossum share a genuine chemistry that makes it a worthwhile watch.
1) Wet Hot American Summer (2001) – This comedy by director David Waid doesn’t get nearly enough love. Starring Michael Showalter, Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, Jeanine Garafalo, David Hyde Pierce, Michael Ian Black, Ken Marino, Chris Meloni, and Bradley Cooper (and many more), this film could have simply been a parody of early 80's summer camp films (yes, that’s a genre). But the oddball mix of comedic sensibilities and a willingness to keep pushing the joke elevates it to a level of brilliance.
2) Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead (2014) – I’m not a huge fan of zombie fiction, but this is one of a handful of films in the genre that I would recommend. Written by two Australian brothers, Tristan and Kiah Roache-Turner, and directed by the latter, it’s Mad Max: Fury Road (on a budget of less than $200,000) with zombies and some interesting twists. Not everything works, but it’s an entertaining way to spend an hour and a half.
3) 13th (2016) – The previous two films will more than likely leave you in a great mood afterwards. This will not. I can’t think of another film that has left me feeling as angry as Ava Duvernay’s documentary did – which is very much the intention. It’s a thoroughly engrossing, infuriating, documentary about the history of the mass incarceration of black men in the U.S., focusing on the role of harsh drug sentences, mandatory minimums, private prisons and much more which will sound terribly familiar if you’ve been paying attention to headlines from the last month or so. The film is, sadly, more timely than ever.