Thursday, May 19, 2011

Film Yap: Free Films - Netflix

I’m now one week into summer. I’m enjoying the lack of classes and the rare opportunity to get some sleep. In addition to working, this is also a great time to catch up on films. Like the rest of my colleagues I’m on a limited budget, so every week I’m going to show everyone how to legally watch great films for no money.

This week is a look at Netflix Instant. Netflix regularly offers free trials to their service and it’s a great bargain. Their disc selection is dandy, but their Instant feature is what is drawing more people in. Instead of waiting for the disc to arrive, you could watch a film or a show on your computer or TV through the click of a button.

Their library is insanely big considering a lot of major studios have made deals with Netflix. Just being on the site for a few minutes you’ll find dozens of movies to watch so I’ll just recommend some 5-star movies that you may not have heard of.

Netflix Instant


I seem to talk hyperbole about this film at least once a month. It’s the feature debut of Rian Johnson, the man behind The Brothers Bloom and the upcoming Looper. Telling a film noir in high school sounds like a hokey concept but this script is so tight and so clever that it perfectly works. Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Brandon, a kid who is on the outside after an incident that happened last year. When his ex-girlfriend asks him for help and then turns up dead, he works his way through the drug trade to figure out what happened. It’s visually beautiful and original from every angle.

Chop Shop

He’s only made three films, but Ramin Bahrani is astounding people with his ability to capture moments of the human condition rarely seen. This was the first Bahrani film I’ve seen and it may just be a perfect film. A young boy and his teenage sister struggle to better their lives by buying a food cart. The movie is so simple and so beautiful. Every performance feels so organic the film could be mistaken for a documentary. Please check it out.


This is my all-time favorite musical. This version is the 2006 revival starring Raúl Esparza in the lead role. It’s about a man named Bobby who is celebrating his birthday. What he thinks he wants is to be married, but his friends have doubts. The show is him interacting with his sets of married friends and his casual girlfriends as he realizes what he truly wants. It’s a really funny show and Stephen Sondheim sure knows how to craft a song or two. Avoid knowing the final song if possible because it’s powerful.


This is actually a miniseries, not a movie. Steven Moffat, the genius behind Coupling, the current Doctor Who and Sherlock made this modern retelling of the classic Jekyll and Hyde story for the BBC. It starts off appearing to be a sequel, but then evolves into something more complex. James Nesbitt is phenomenal as the titular character(s). Nesbitt isn’t very well known in America unless you’ve caught Five Minutes From Heaven or the original State of Play, but he knows how to balance the calm and horrifying in the blink of an eye. Every one of the six parts is thrilling because Moffat does not just tell the story you’ve told before. He’s faithful by being inventive.

Kicking and Screaming

This is my favorite film. No, it’s not the one with Will Ferrel playing soccer. This is Noah Baumbach’s first film about a group of guys who graduate college…and then don’t do anything. They don’t move out or move on. They just stay in arrested development and continue to do the usual things. The screenplay is incredibly witty and surprisingly romantic. There is warmth that is missing from a lot of Baumbach’s later films, which is too bad. Even though the film is criticizing its characters, it still invites you to have a lot of fun with them as they hopefully start to grow up.

Let the Right One In

I would simply say this was the original version of Let Me In, but according to the box office not many of you saw that film. Both movies are worthwhile, but this one has an extra level of creepiness. Set in Sweden, it’s the story of a young boy who discovers that his new neighbor is not a girl his age, but a vampire. Walking the line between romantic and tragedy, this film makes an unsettling experience. Last year I claimed this to be the best horror film of the last decade.

Mean Streets

Either this or The Last Temptation of Christ is my favorite Martin Scorsese film. I like gangster films, but I never finish one wanting to be a gangster. So a film like Goodfellas doesn’t exactly work for me, but I responded more to Harvey Keitel’s struggle in this film. He wants to get out of the racket, but he’s unfortunately good at it. He knows what to do to make sure everybody gets their money and to keep people in line, like screw-up Robert DeNiro. This was a great place for Scorsese to test a lot of new visual tricks that showed the world what an exciting filmmaker was emerging.

Man on Wire

I love being inspired by movies. This is the Best Documentary Oscar winner from a few years back about the man who snuck up to the top of the Twin Towers, placed a tightrope between them, and walked across. Was it an act of madness or expression? Philippe Petit is such a cinematic subject that he electrifies the whole film with his genuine enthusiasm. This is also one of the rare examples when I really liked the dramatic recreations.

Paper Moon

Con movies are typically delightful. They’re about using cleverness to trick a person. I thought I had seen them all, but somehow I missed this one. Ryan and Tatum O’Neal plays possible father and daughter who travel across the south during the 1930s pretending to sell bibles to make a buck. Peter Bogdanovich creates a very believable time that is oddly warm despite its odd circumstances. Madeline Kahn has a small part but hysterical part as a possible wife for Ryan O’Neal.

The Producers

Even with the Tony award winning show, it still feels this Mel Brooks movie is a bit forgotten. It’s my favorite of his films and maybe his funniest. Gene Wilder is Leo Bloom, a neurotic accountant who accidently comes up with a scheme where you can make more money with a theatrical flop than a hit. Zero Mostel gets dollar signs in his eyes and together they create the worst show on Broadway, Springtime for Hitler. Everyone is at the top of their game, especially Wilder.

Other Five Star Films Currently Available on Netflix Instant

All About Eve

All That Jazz


Army of Shadows


Before Sunset

Duck Soup

Enter the Void

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Once Upon a Time in America

Sherlock Season One (I don’t care that it’s a TV show; it’s three incredible 90 minute movies, so they kinda qualify)

Toy Story 3

A Woman Under the Influence

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