Netflix and Skill
Netflix has quickly become a major player in the film production business. Not only are they striking incredible distribution deals by sweeping up at all the prominent festivals, but they’ve also moved into original content production and financing in-house projects. This increased scale and visibility has attracted some serious talent to the once fledgling streaming service and has turned them into a legitimate artistic partner, one the major studios should take seriously. Personally I find the increased collaboration between filmmakers and streaming services like Netflix and Amazon to be a boon for films in general. Although I always advocate for the cinema going experience, admittedly not every movie is designed to be seen on the big screen. But every movie is designed to be seen. That’s where Netflix has the edge. In a world where our attention is fought for 24/7 by the internet of things, and ticket prices constantly rising, the sheer viability of taking a family of four to the theater has sadly turned into a struggle of finding the right time and money. Streaming content from the comfort of your own home is a luxury unknown to generations past. And theater owners are struggling to stay relevant with each passing year. However, the changing the landscape of film consumption has opened up the door for independent films to strive. Concepts like “opening weekend” and “per-theater average” take a backseat to the idea of “trending” and word of mouth. With that said, as always in the spirit of “Netflix Navigator,” here are five movies currently streaming on Netflix that you might have missed but should definitely check out.
1. The Discovery (2017) – dir. Charlie McDowell
A recent poster child for the Netflix’s distribution dominance, The Discovery was acquired back in June of last year and had its world premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. This isn’t surprising given that one of the founding fathers of the festival, Robert Redford, plays the scientist who actually proves the existence of the afterlife. Also unsurprising is the fact that once news of this breakthrough gets out, the suicide rate skyrockets due to people trying to “get there.” Jason Segel plays his son who isn’t entirely convinced of the empirical (or ethical) nature of his father’s findings. McDowell impressed me with his 2014 feature debut The One I Love and The Discovery continues his winning streak. It’s a perfect example of the symbiosis of quality filmmaking and the ability to stream at home. A wildly inventive premise combined with a top notch acting (Rooney Mara, Jesse Plemons, and Riley Keough round out the cast) make for a fascinating watch that can be enjoyed from the comfort of your couch. Have fun answering the questions this movie will ask of you.
2. Tower (2016) – dir. Keith Maitland
Along with binge-worthy TV series and stand-up comedy specials, Netflix has also become the home for compelling documentaries. In fact most documentaries people watch are viewed on Netflix, and the company knows this. That’s why they’ve continued to support and provide a platform for these stories to be told. Netflix has turned into the go-to platform for documentarians to share their craft and show off their techniques. One such example of unique storytelling is last year’s Tower, which is a rotoscoped retelling of the 1966 University of Texas Tower shooting. Told from the perspective of various individuals on the floor of the campus that day, as well as the police officers who eventually ended the sniper’s shooting spree, Tower is a raw and powerful examination of the fear and uncertainty that covered the campus that fateful August day. Although the subject matter is hard to watch at times, the gorgeous animations and selective color applications make the film aesthetically standout like no other documentary out there.
3. Circle (2015) – dir. Aaron Hann & Mario Miscione
Further demonstrating Netflix’s reach in terms of small budget/indie films is Circle. What pleased me the most about this high concept, single-location movie was that I had never heard of it before watching. And yet an intriguing premise and short run time attracted me to give it a shot and I’m certainly glad I did. Think 12 Angry Men as an alien social experiment, Circle is suspenseful, well-acted, and damn gripping. The setup is simple: 50 strangers wake up in a circle with a lighting-blasting ball in the middle that zaps a person dead every two minutes. What we watch over the ensuing 87 minutes is the group trying to collectively figure out what the hell is going on…and who will be the next to go. This movie is a great example of a small-scale thriller that doesn’t necessarily demand to be seen on a large screen but instead is best consumed on-demand.
4. Touching the Void (2003) – dir. Kevin MacDonald
Another documentary but this time told through more traditional reenactments, Touching the Void tells the harrowing true story of Joe Simpson and Simon Yates, who in 1985 trekked to the western ridge of one of the most dangerous mountains in Peru – Siula Grande. The experienced pair of climbers eventually reach the summit however they quickly fall into despair upon descent. When Joe suffers a broken leg in a fall, Simon attempts to lower his friend slowly down the mountain face. But when a snow storm forces Simon to lower Joe over a deep crevasse and little idea of what condition Joe is actually dangling in, Simon is left with no other option but to cut the rope that is suspending his partner, essentially leaving him for dead. It’s an unfortunate situation no doubt, but fortunately not a tragic one. Joe miraculously survives the fall albeit in banged up condition. What follows is testament for the human will to survive. Fighting broken limbs, frostbite, and dehydration, Joe manages to escape his desperate situation and make it back to base camp just in time. Thrilled to see that his friend is alive, Simon quickly has to face the reality of what led to this in the first place; his decision to cut the rope.
5. The Dirties (2013) – dir. Matt Johnson
The Columbine massacre was a turning point in the American zeitgeist. It was the first high profile high school shooting that traumatized the entire nation. Since that tragedy in 1999, there have been a slew of teenage shooting movies released in the event’s aftermath during the early to mid-aughts. Its effects even surpassed our borders as filmmaker and producer Matt Johnson is Canadian. In his ambitious feature debut “The Dirties,” Matt and his friend Owen play two high school outcasts with a passion for movies and shooting their own home videos which are usually just cheap parody videos of popular films. Not the most socially accepted students at their school, Matt and Owen are repeatedly mocked and shunned for their unique brand of low-budget filmmaking. One day Matt pitches an idea for a new movie where the two protagonists are the victims of the school’s bullies and they become empowered to take revenge into their own hands by stalking the halls of the school with weapons and killing all the “the dirties” who have been compiled on a hit list. In Matt’s mind they will be the good guys and cheered by the rest of the school for doing the right thing, almost like a twisted version of Robin Hood. Owen plays along with this concept until he sees the line between fantasy and reality beginning to blur in Matt’s mind. The Dirties is a subversive entry into the high school shooting genre because the main characters are funny, charming, and entirely relate-able. Filled with witty dialogue, classic movie homages, and a hammering ending, there’s something in The Dirties for everyone.
What’s stronger? Netflix’s movie or documentary game?
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Movies greatly outnumber the docs but the docs have more hits than misses I think.
Is peep show the worst loss for Netflix’s lineup since its founding? If not, what should Amazon steal next?
Sadly I’ll be on vacation then