A Collection of Great Hidden Gems on Netflix
These are the undiscovered gems of Netflix.
Mississippi Grind (Watch here) — Co-writers/co-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck lovingly laying out Mississippi Grind with an unhurried hand. The focus here—as Curtis reminds us with crooked smiles and earnest dialogue—is the journey, not the destination. The filmmakers behind Half Nelson have always had an eye for talent. And their trust in Ben Mendelsohn and Ryan Reynolds is well-founded. The pair weaves a complex and compelling co-dependent relationship that keeps Mississippi Grind entertaining even when nothing much is going on. But once these wanderers separate, the pace slows to a crawl that doesn’t pick up even after they reunite. Though its final act runs out of steam, fans of Mendelsohn and/or Reynolds will relish the electric character work explored here.
Enemy (Watch Here) — Enemy is a trippy little mindfuck. It’s a Canadian/Spanish production directed by Canadian Denis Villeneuve (who also directed Prisoners) based on the 2002 erotic thriller The Double from Portuguese author José Saramago. It stars an American in Gyllenhaal, a Parisian in Mélanie Laurent, Canadian Sarah Gadon, and Italian actress Isabella Rossellini. It’s a fascinating film, and to give anything away besides the premise would completely spoil it.
Laggies (Watch Here) — This Lynn Shelton movie attempts a kind of gender-reversed man-child with Keira Knightley in the lead, and she’s incredible as a woman trapped between youth and adulthood. The pull of nostalgia and loyalty keeps her trapped in her suburban past, but the lure of Sam Rockwell — and his divorced Dad character — gently pushes her into adulthood, even if it means essentially breaking up with all of her high school friends. If you love Rockwell (and Ellie Kemper), Laggies is a perfect heartwarming, well-acted, lounge on the couch on a lazy Saturday afternoon kind of movie.
Obvious Child (Watch here) — Directed by Gillian Robespierre from a story by Robespierre and a small cadre of others, the movie’s focus is, as so many movies are these days, the aimless independence of the twenty-something. While on paper this sounds like it could be either slightly icky or massively unpleasant, Obvious Child manages to navigate these treacherous waters gently and comes out the other side mostly unscathed. To see a film written by, starring, and focusing in on the experiences of women is such a treat, it feels shady to even drum up too many criticisms, (also, ugh, “criticisms” how boring), and the movie does so much so handily that it’s easy to forgive any slight missteps throughout. Jenny Slate’s Obvious Child is worthy of contemplation, for as much as it does not say as for what it reveals about the way we think about ourselves. Also, it’s actually funny, and there’s precious little of real funny in the world these days.
Locke (Watch here) — Given that Tom Hardy has nothing but his speakerphone and a steering wheel to play against, his performance is remarkable. He’s not running all over town, engaging in shaky-cam fight scenes, but he may as well be. Tom Hardy embodies all the turmoil and action of a Harrison Ford ’90s action thriller, but he does it almost entirely internally. Still, as impressive as Hardy’s performance is, the ultimate problem with Locke as a film is pretty much unavoidable given the conventions Knight has set up. We are stuck in this car with the man, made to feel as trapped and anxious as he is. And while that claustrophobia definitely heightens the anxiety of the situation, it also comes with the negatives of any car trip. Eighty-five minutes trapped in a car feels like 180 in any other situation. You will get squirmy. You will want a break from the monotony. This imposed discomfort feels deliberate on the part of Knight, but that doesn’t make it any more bearable. You know what does make it bearable, though? Brilliant acting and utter objectification. Don’t tell me that’s not worth your time.
Win It All (Watch Here) — With Swanberg’s most recent effort, Win It All, the weight of the film rides almost exclusively on star Jake Johnson, who is in virtually every scene. Johnson plays Eddie Garret, a degenerate gambler who regulars at a Chinatown casino. One day he is asked to hold onto a bag full cash while the bag’s owner does a quick stint in jail. “… This is an interesting opportunity,” Johnson’s Garret says to the bag. And you can see where this is going. Johnson has always been an actor who is both likable and outrageously funny, while always seeming to have some darkness or pathos operating behind the scenes. All of that is in full play in Win It All and as likable as Johnson is when he’s playing the lighter moments, he absolutely kills it when asked to dig into the sadness and horror of an addiction that his Garret knows he needs to walk away from but just cannot.
The Meyerowitz Stories (Watch Here) — The film’s skittish voice is its best quality, giving a vintage Woody Allen flavour to the family’s interactions and presenting the story as a succession of episodes rather than a heavy overview of everyone’s psyche. Much of the film is winning though, particularly when Baumbach surrenders to his talent for observation and lets us watch, for instance, a son and his father sit down for dinner together. Then, clockwork precision of eye for detail, for the way character emanates from small actions, his ear for the way a banal situation or misunderstanding can draw out animosity or truth, come out in full force.
The Wackness (Watch Here) — At its core, The Wackness is a love story about not finding love. It’s about having your heart trounced because life is shitty, and that’s what happens, and that’s a more important lesson to learn sometimes than finding storybook romance. Still, love is a more powerful force than drugs in this movie. The only other star of this movie is the soundtrack, which hugs up against the story and melds like a thing of perfectly pitched beauty. Mix tapes abound throughout the story, with characters trading songs like Garbage Pail Kids cards. The soundtrack jumps from hip-hop to rap to classic rock to classical (Squires’ secret drug name is Haydn), matching the characters as necessary and being perfect in the moment. You could listen to the soundtrack and know exactly what was going on in the story without ever seeing a frame of the movie.
Bad Batch (Watch Here) — With vivid colors, grease and grime, Lily Amirpour (A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night) creates a world both beautiful and ugly, brutal yet laced with grace, like a dapper cannibal who sketches soulful portraits, when he’s not butchering yowling outcasts.
Raw (Watch Here) — Methodically paced, Ducournau’s film reveals a confidence all the more impressive in a first-time filmmaker. And Raw’s surreal atmosphere smudged in grime, sprinkled with fur, splashed with paint, and splattered in viscera makes it throb like a nightmare that follows you into your morning. There’s a wildness here that’s fierce and thrilling, building to one shocking reveal after another. Then comes a final beat so sharply funny and fucked up that it left this critic cackling over the end credits. And that’s its menacing magic. Biting and brilliant, Raw is a chilling tale with a wicked wit that’ll make dark hearts cackle.
Would You Rather (Watch on Netflix) — Brittany Snow stars as Iris, a young woman struggling to support her ill younger brother, without help from parents or other siblings. Iris finds herself invited to the home of the wealthy Shepard Lambrick, a possible benefactor…if Iris wins a game of Would You Rather. Granted, while you may see some parts of the movie coming at you from quite a distance, what you won’t expect is how gifted director David Guy Levy is at capturing the familiar human struggle of money or morals. When you’re done watching Would You Rather, you may need a bath and a bottle of Scotch to lull yourself into thinking you would never do what any of the people in the movie did. Not for any amount of money…right?
Don’t Think Twice (Watch Here) — Don’t Think Twice is a hard movie to watch at times, with these moments that feel so real and true that you squirm, feeling like you should not be watching something so intimately uncomfortable. But Mike Birbiglia’s script smartly does not wallow in these moments of discomfort, balancing them out with uproariously funny scenes. Both poignant and hilarious, Don’t Think Twice is similar to a Judd Apatow film in that way, except that both the emotional and comedic beats feel more realistic than even the best Apatow moments. Fans of improv will love this for the improv scenes alone (which are made up of both scripted and actual improvised moments). But this movie should, and hopefully will be, loved by everyone because Don’t Think Twice is simply a heartbreaking, but hilarious, delight.
Europa Report (Watch on Netflix) — Europa Report is everything you want out of hard science fiction. It takes the science seriously, grounds it within the constraints of the real world and then wraps those ideas around human drama. This is a slow movie, and if you’re looking for space action or alien horror, this just isn’t the film for you. We ride pillars of fire into the heavens, strapped into rickety aluminum cans as we suck our air out of glorified scuba gear. We sail to the stars and planets a hair’s breadth from annihilation by cosmic rays and vacuum and hang to survival by our fingernails. The constant Macgyvering of solutions is the purest representation of what our species is capable of. We are mud that willed itself to stand up, and a million years later we are still clawing our way upwards. Space travel isn’t safe, and we will find infinite danger there. And the heroes of the next age will be the ones who go anyway, who throw their lives into the void to call back and tell us what they see.
I Don’t Feel At Home in this World Anymore — I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore starts slowly and contemplatively in one genre and crescendos until a hell of a final act that seems to take place in another genre altogether, one that has more in common with Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room (which featured Macon Blair in an acting role). However, the two genres play well together. Melanie Lynskey is — as always — superb, as she evolves into this generation’s Parker Posey, while Elijah Wood continues a streak of oddball indie roles designed to ensure that no one ever finds him sexually appealing again. It’s not an earth-shattering film, but it makes for solid Netflix fare for a Saturday night, and it’s a must-see for the Lynskey enthusiasts among us.
Clouds of Sils Maria (Watch Here)— Clouds of Sils Maria is not for the casual moviegoer. It is too abruptly cerebral to please. But if you’re an Assayas fan, you’ll likely be thrilled. If you’re a Stewart fan, you’ll want to see it to add to your evidence that she’s an undervalued actress. And if you think Binoche can do no wrong, her performance here will give you further reason for worship. Just don’t anticipate a jaunty showbiz story. Clouds of Sils Maria has a lot of thoughts on Hollywood, but little patience for its rules.
White Girl (Watch Here) — White Girl is dedicatedly deplorable in its decadence and riveting in its rawness. The cinematography, rich with suffocating close-ups, ratchets up the tension through unforgiving proximity. All past tales of girls lost to the terrible big city instantly imbue the film with dramatic weight. But how Wood plays both out to a uniquely unsettling finale is pioneering, thought provoking, and more than a little haunting.
Adult Beginners (Watch Here) — Aimless but utterly charming, Nick Kroll stars as Jake, a man in his mid-30s whose start-up goes belly-up and he is forced to move back home with his sister (Rose Byrne) to reset and ultimately find himself. The living arrangement, however, creates some friction when Jake finds out his sister’s husband (Byrne’s real-life partner, Bobby Cannavale) is sleeping around. Adult Beginners is modest, amusing, and a genuinely decent movie with a cast with chemistry to spare. It’s the perfect for movie background watching. It also features a rarity in the career of Nick Kroll: A role in which he is not a douchebag.
Tangerine (Watch Here)— On its surface, this LGBT dramedy sounds like it’s bound to be chock-full of embarrassing backwards stereotypes. Set in Hollywood on Christmas Eve, it follows a pair of transgender sex workers, one who is hunting down her boyfriend/pimp over rumors he strayed while she served time, the other desperately seeking an audience for her cabaret show that night. Along the way, these broke bffs collide with eye-rolling cops, slur-spewing bro-dudes, and skeezy johns, including a cab driver with a complicated family life (to put it lightly). It sounds sordid, but writer/director Sean Baker’s approach and his electric ensemble cast offer an unapologetic frankness and surprisingly jolly humor making for an unconventional holiday movie that’s fascinating, funny and humane.
For more recent movie recommendations, check out our guide.