1. Brothers Bloom (Available Now) — Early in Brothers Bloom, one character says, “It seems to be that the perfect con is the one where each person involved gets just the thing they wanted.” It’s an appropriate sentiment. The Brothers Bloom never feels like a movie designed to separate you from the cost of a ticket; it feels like a piece of altruistic entertainment. And maybe that makes The Brothers Bloom the perfect con — you give up $10, and in exchange, you get two hours of sublime happiness. Everyone gets exactly what they want. Indeed, in tone and aesthetic, The Brothers Bloom is the spiritual successor to The Royal Tenenbaums, but it’s less wink/nudge, less precocious, less satisfied with its own sense of cleverness, and even more novelistic in its approach. It possess the same heightened sense of reality, though; the same offbeat sensibility, and the same fairy-tale quality that Tenenbaums radiated, only The Brothers Bloom is the sort of fairy tale you might hear Ricky Jay recite to distract you from a 90-minute sleight of hand trick. And it’d work, too; so engrossed would you be in the tale of The Brothers Bloom that Jay could empty your bank accounts, unload all the contents of your house, and steal your wife without your notice.
It’s also a great movie to watch if you want to get to know your next Star Wars director, Rian Johnson, even better.
2. American Beauty (Available Now) — The 1999 Oscar winner starring Kevin Spacey is a stunning and energetic black comedy that miraculously finds the humanity in ugly repulsive characters and turns it inside out, extracting our sympathy with deep humor and a reservoir of melancholy. Even the American Dream is a facade, American Beauty suggests — scratch the surface, and beneath it are the hollow echoes of monotony, denial, and despair. But there’s beauty even in the pathetic smallness of our lives, and American Beauty manages to make us grateful for it.
3. House of Cards (Season Three) (Available 2/27)— The first season of Netflix’s first major original series was groundbreaking in that, for the first time, we could binge-watch an entire season of a brand new, expensive, richly produced, incredibly acted episodes all in the weekend it premiered. It was a solid season, too. But the novelty of binge-watching had begun to wear off by the time the second season came around, and the series had to thrive on is own merit. In that respect, the second season was a mixed bag: It began with a jolting surprise, but it never quite reached that high again, as the series bloat began to show and as we began to lose our sympathy with Frank Underwood, not because he was the villain, but because he was no longer a compelling enough villain. Hopefully, season three will refocus itself and let the characters drive the plot instead of the twists.
4. Mr. Peabody and Sherman (Available 2/11) — Considered something of a flop last year (it made only $111 million stateside on a $145 million budget), Mr. Peabody and Sherman got lost in between the releases of Frozen and The LEGO Movie and dimissed by some because it was a remake of an old pop-culture relic few cared about. Still, the time-travel movie animated feature was far more charming and witty than many might have expected, and at times, it was even subversive for kids’ fare. It will appeal mightily to geeky kids with in love with sci-fi and history. If you missed it in theaters, it’s the perfect movie for your children to discover on Netflix.
5. Spartacus: Complete Series (Available Now) — Described as a series about a Thracian man condemned to a brutal death in the arena, only to outlast his executioners and be reborn as the enslaved gladiator Spartacus, I haven’t actually seen much of the series beyond the GIFs of fantastic, stylized violence , but TV Critic Ryan McGee from the AV Club swears by it, and who am I to disagree?