A Collection of Great Hidden Gems on Netflix
These are the undiscovered gems of Netflix.
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.
Sing Street (Watch Here) — Set in 1985 Dublin, Sing Street plays like Once meets Billy Elliot (and The Commitments). Director John Carney’s film is rich in ’80s nostalgia and laughs over the foibles of teendom. But Carney is careful not to make his heroes too precious or objects of ridicule. We laugh from recognition. We laugh with them, not at them. Ultimately, Sing Street is a bittersweet celebration of youth and that sweet spot where life’s possibilities seems infinite and terrifying all at once. Carney builds his story from a familiar foundation, then uses the imagination of its heroes to grow into fantasy sequences, musical numbers, and a rousing finale that will make you want to stand up and cheer.
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?
Housebound (Watch on Neflix) — Centered around a young woman sentenced to house arrest in her childhood home after the worst ATM robbery attempt imaginable, it may remind you of a New Zealand-set, female-centric Attack the Block. It’s equal parts angry, unsettled ghosts and strained mother-daughter relationships. It perfectly balances the scary and the hilarious (scarlarious!), in a way that will upset all your senses.
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.
Goon (Watch Here) — Goon, written by Jay Baruchel and Evan Goldberg and directed by Michael Dowse, is the unholy bastard child of Rocky and Slap Shot, with the dynamite mechanics of Major League thrown in for good measure. It’s not so much a movie about hockey as about my favorite part of hockey, the enforcer. It’s hilarious and violent, a sweet love story punched in the face with a knuckle dragging sports blowout, with profanity fountaining out like a shook-up soda can. From the opening shots of blood splattering ice as a tooth slowly tumbles to the rink, asskicking abounds, and from opening buzzer to final bloody dukeout, Goon pummels you with gleeful abandon and you’re left dazed and smiling. Albeit short a few choppers.
Trust (Watch Here) — Trust is the crushing tale of a freshman girl who gets stalked and sexually violated by an online predator. It plays out like a painstakingly well-crafted Lifetime movie or an afterschool special, but that’s more to the layout of the plot rather than the acting and style of the production. Because it is painstakingly well-crafted and soul-crushing to watch. Schwimmer, working from a script by In The Bedroom scribe Robert Festinger, and Andy Bellin, creates what amounts to a stylistically interesting and heartrending cautionary example of the potential dangers of living in the digital age. While it’s plotted a bit like the online date rape version of the drivers’-ed “Blood on the Asphalt” video, the actors are all fantastic and Schwimmer manages to come at the story from enough intriguing and terrifying angles to make the film quality.
Europa Report (Watch on Netflix) — Europa Report is everything you want out of my 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.
Dope (Watch Here)— Dope is a smart, funny, inventive look at a coming-of-age tale, framed within a caper flick. It’s wild and weird and goofy, led by Malcolm in an unusually quiet, nuanced, steady tone regardless of the hijinks on the screen (though he does have his moments of craziness). It’s clearly a labor of love, and the project is backed by a variety of big names — producers and executive producers include Forrest Whitaker, Pharrell Williams, and Sean Combs. It’s an ambitious, rambunctious, wildly inconsistent and often messy film that needs some parts trimmed and others expanded. But it doesn’t matter. Dope has enough wonder and brilliance, ambition and humor, and perhaps most of all love in it to easily outweigh its flaws.
Life Partners (Watch Now) — All of the praises that were deservedly showered on Bridesmaids should also be applied here. But Life Partners is so much more than a “new Bridesmaids,” mostly because it has no interest in being that. Though that’s what it will probably will be called, because while a strong female friendship is really the only connection, that’s a rare enough element for it to stand out. What we really learned here is that Gillian Jacobs can carry the shit out of a movie. Leighton Meester is also fantastic, and the chemistry between the two is unbelievable (in just how absolutely believable it is). Adam Brody and the supporting cast— Gabourey Sidibe and Beth Dover as Sasha’s lesbian frenemies, and Kate McKinnon in one completely stolen scene— round out a fully lived-in connected web. But Jacobs is something else.
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.