Netflix Navigator II

Recommendations at your service

Winter storms, snowed-in cars, and terrible commutes; three struggles everyone in the Northeast has in common right now. Fortunately, another common thread that we all share, regardless of geography, is Netflix! Virtually all of us have (or know someone who has) a Netflix account. As I’ve mentioned before, exploring the endless list of titles is a beautiful endeavor. Even the company’s CEO Reed Hastings recently commented that the sharing of single accounts between multiple users is “a positive thing.” Of course, he has the dollars to back up this thinking. These days Netflix is evolving into much more than just being comfort television on a rainy day. With an entire catalog of original programming and expansion into feature film financing, Netflix is quickly becoming the chic model for original content distribution. So in my continued efforts to highlight quality in an otherwise flooded virtual marketplace, here are five films available for streaming right now on Netflix. Enjoy!

1. Three Kings (1999) – dir. David O. Russell

three kings
O’Shea “Ice Cube” Jackson, Mark Wahlberg, and George Clooney

Before he was making quirky romantic comedies with Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, David O. Russell was making quirky black comedy war films. Perhaps the best film released about the First Gulf War (a war that Hollywood has not been rushing to depict since), Three Kings is a fantastic farce with brains to boot.  With a cast that features People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive (1997 and 2006) George Clooney, LA gangsta rapper Ice Cube, a budding Mark Wahlberg, and director Spike Jonze…one wouldn’t expect to find this odd mix of characters at the heart of a military heist set against the violent backdrop of the Middle East. Three Kings is loads of fun, and will maybe have you thinking a bit longer afterwards.

2. The Yards (2000)dir. James Gray

the yards
Mark Wahlberg as “Leo Handler” and Joaquin Phoenix as “Willie Gutierrez”

If there’s one director whose praises don’t get sung loud enough, it’s James Gray. For my money, Gray is the best director you’ve never heard of. He has yet to make a bad film in my eyes – his collaborations with Joaquin Phoenix being particularly fruitful. He is the definition of a classic American auteur, cut from the same cloth as Sidney Lumet, De Palma, and Scorsese. I consistently look forward to any project with his name on it and with as much anticipation as his highly regarded peers. Oddly enough, his sophomore film The Yards was not my first foray into his oeuvre. After retroactively discovering it however, it’s no surprise to see that he’s crafted the body of work that he has. Taking place around the railways of Queens, New York, The Yards is a crime thriller that features Mark Wahlberg once again, the prodigious Joaquin Phoenix, and a young Charlize Theron. Sit back and watch Gray transport you with his sensitive storytelling. Truly a master among us.

3. Frances Ha (2013) – dir. Noah Baumbach

frances ha
Mickey Sumner as “Sophie Levee” and Greta Gerwig as “Frances Halladay”

A twenty-something aspiring dancer looking for connection and direction in her life despite being overwhelmed by her aimlessness living in Lower Manhattan. Sounds like the pitch to a bad indie romance film. And any other time you’d be correct. But not in the hands of Noah Baumbach. Before he directed and wrote 2015’s wonderful Mistress America (also starring Gerwig who co-wrote it), Baumbach delivered the ultimate in millennial malaise with Frances Ha. Yes it’s offbeat and at times zany, but what makes this film resonate so strongly is its universality. Frances Ha tells a story of friendship, love, and following one’s passion to the fullest – accepting whatever consequences that decision may bare. Bizarrely funny and exceedingly charming, Frances Ha will have you feeling sorry for the titular character while simultaneously cheering her spirit on. Rock on Frances.

4. World of Tomorrow (2015) – dir. Don Hertzfeldt

Emily Clone and Emily Prime

World of Tomorrow is unique in its inclusion on this list because it’s the only short film of the bunch. Clocking in at just under 17 minutes, this animated short about time travel is more an exercise in philosophical meditation than in filmmaking. Most widely known for his Oscar-nominated short Rejected, Don Hertzfeldt returns with his most poignant project yet. Personally speaking, I’ve never encountered such a condensed package of art that delivers as powerful an experience as World of Tomorrow. Without giving too much away, the plot centers around future time travel technology, the concept of memory, and the idea of self. Hertzfeldt is, without exaggeration, a visionary. Hopefully he captures the Academy Award that eluded him in 2000 this time around, not that he needs it. World of Tomorrow is nominated for Best Animated Short Film at this year’s Oscars. I’ll end this entry with the parting words of Emily Clone, who reminds us to appreciate our lives as they stand right now because “Now is the envy of all of the dead.”

5. Cartel Land (2015) – dir. Matthew Heineman

Tim “Nailer” Foley surveys the Arizona border

Before Sicario took a look at the brutal world of the drug cartels at the US/Mexican border, director Matthew Heineman practically lived it with Cartel Land. As true to his subjects as a documentarian can be, Heineman stands shoulder to shoulder with those on both sides of the (literal) fence. By taking us into the front lines and witnessing the very real dangers of border defense, Cartel Land humanizes those trapped in this unforgiving landscape. Deep in the heart of Mexico, Dr. José Mireles leads a Michoacán-based civilian army known as the Autodefensas, who fight to protect all the towns within the cartels’ vicious reach. Stateside, a militia group known as the Arizona Border Recon has taken up arms and personally vowed to defend America’s border from drug smugglers and those looking to bring illicit trade across national boundaries. Cartel Land is deeply sobering and will open your eyes to a world often spoken about but rarely ever seen.


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