Netflix Streaming, 50 films: Week 1

Netflix streaming through NXE is probably one of the coolest things of all time. Okay that’s an exaggeration…but only slightly. It’s an awesome feature that has changed the way I watch movies and, with Netflix already established as a household name, one that I think has become a standard amenity for most gamers with a Live subscription.

Of course the service is only as good as the movies on it. Fortunately the streaming feature is not just a cheap gimmick but while Netflix has supported it with an ever changing selection of quality content, there is still a whole lot of junk as well. Sorting through the mountain of mediocrity is made easier by the star ratings but it’s still hard sometimes to know what’s going to be worth your time.

There are some really good films available for instant viewing but in a library of 10,000+ movies, they can be hard to find. It’s easy to miss some of the best, in favor of something conveniently at hand. With this in mind, as a film fanatic, I’ve delved into the Netflix library and chosen 50 films that I think are most deserving of your attention and Que. There are hundred’s of great films available for instant viewing and it’s nearly impossible to narrow the list to 50. To determine why one film makes the list over another is a challenging and ultimately subjective procedure. The criteria is difficult to define but ultimately the process involved a consideration of the film’s critical acclaim and popularity as well as it’s importance and of course it’s entertainment value.

Each week we’ll look at 10 films in no particular order, with four lists and forty films leading up to and culminating in the top 10 films of Netflix streaming.

The idea behind the list was to find the best of from all corners of cinema (excluding TV shows), available in streaming, and compile a diverse list of the greatest films of all time. Some of the greatest classics are available through the service as well as more obscure masterpieces and everything from Documentaries to Thrillers, Silent to Sci-Fi is represented here. The films on this list represent some of the best ever made. There are a lot of great movies available for instant viewing but these are the 50 you need to see.

Week 1

The 39 Steps (1935)
A British production made before he gained notoriety as a Hollywood director, The 39 Steps is one of the most delightful, yet lesser known Hitchcock masterpieces. It’s a fine example of many of his favorite themes including the ‘wrong man’ scenario and one of the most classic uses of the “Mcguffen.” In an on the run plot similar to his later Saboteur (also available in streaming) a young man stumbles into an international mystery involving murder, espionage and government secrets. Attempting to stay one step ahead of spies and other shadowy forces as he gradually makes his way across the British countryside. Deftly blending lighthearted comedy and romance with thrilling adventure, it’s one of the best and most entertaining examples of the classic Hitchcock chase film and was an early precursor to his later works such as North by Northwest.

Blade Runner – Director’s Cut (1982)
Few films have been so generally accepted as classics yet at the same time so thoroughly divided critics and fans over that assumption. Based off of Philip K. Dick’s short story “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” Blade Runner fails to fully deliver on the cerebral depth of it’s source material, especially compared with similar films such as Minority Report (also based on a Philip K. Dick short), but where it falls short in substance it makes up for with style. The film’s foreboding depiction of future Los Angeles is unforgettable, with it’s dark industrialized cityscape, billowing flames, and crowded, rainy streets teeming with neon lights and exotic characters. The art style was influenced by a variety of sources and is a strangely harmonious marriage of gritty Sci-Fi and vintage Noir. The eerily timeless aesthetic of sets and costumes is complimented by the magnificent ethereal score by Vangelis. Part of the film’s lasting appeal is the seemingly ageless quality of it’s ambiance as well as it’s brilliant special effects, which, similarly to Kubrick’s 2001, have a kind of flawlessness that holds up impeccably well today. While criticisms about the story are in some ways valid, these arguments fail to account for the true essence of a film that succeeds not as a masterpiece of literary depth but of beautiful, haunting atmosphere and encompassing vision.

Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
Though inspired in part by early Noir such as Double Indemnity and Gun Crazy, Bonnie and Clyde is unlike any other movie or genre. One of the defining films of the new era that emerged in the 60’s Bonnie and Clyde characterized it’s raw energy and fearlessness. Bold and provocative, the film’s unflinching candor and brazen style ignored the inhibitions of conventional filmmaking, embodying the exciting spirit of a new kind of cinema in the rebellious attitude of America’s most notorious couple. It’s reckless beauty parallels the youth and violence of the famous outlaws, their exploits, and eventual downfall. It’s edginess however, does not detract from it’s power as a portrait of America and two tragic human beings. Ned Beatty and Faye Dunaway give meaningful performances as the fated lovers. The final sequence is an extraordinary example of editing, a furious choreography of frames that manages to convey a remarkable amount of information, expression and revelation in the final moments. Stunning in it’s ferocity and majestic in it’s tragic parable, Bonnie and Clyde is a seminal classic and stirring American elegy.

Lupin the 3rd: The Castle of Cagliostro: Special Edition (1980)
One of the great directors, Hayao Miyazaki is less conspicuous being a Japanese director of animated films. He is none the less one of the most consistently brilliant and sensitive storytellers of recent years. Like many Japanime directors Miyazaki is himself an artist. A consummate craftsman and master of his art form he often contibutes many of the frames to his own films. The Castle of Cagliostro was his first feature film. Based on the Manga, it features the suave criminal Lupin III and his companion in crime Jigen as they investigate the mysterious kingdom of the sinister Count Cagliostro. It’s an action adventure instilled with the cool of both a heist film and spy flick. Though dissimilar to the myth and magic that would come to characterize Miyazaki’s later films such as Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away, the Manga translation still benefits from the imagination and intuitive storytelling of Miyazaki’s genius. Steven Spielberg himself called it “One of the greatest adventure movies of all time.” Not bad coming from the director of Indiana Jones.

BC

“We rob banks.”

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
The strange and fantastical talents of off the wall genius screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation) shine in this metaphysical romance about the intricacies of the heart and the reconciliations of love. Jim Carey gives a very likable performance as the quiet, gentle Joel who’s relationship with wild child Clementine (Kate Winslet) struggles to find balance, and the couple, mutual serenity. When they decide to end their relationship Joel turns to Lacuna, a curious institution that specializes in the removal of unwanted memories. As a writer, Kaufman demonstrates one of the principles of good science fiction: Using the liberating nature of fantasy as literal illustrations of figurative principles. By using Joel’s memories as a stage, Kaufman brilliantly illuminates abstract concepts by spatially defining them within the environment of Joel’s imagination. Kaufman needed only the convenient vehicle of Lacuna’s fictional memory science in order to create a fantastic visual illustration of an emotional odyssey. As Joel’s memories of Clementine are removed, will he have a change of heart? Will it matter if they are soul mates?

Fitzcarraldo (1982)
A fascinating spectacle. Acclaimed director Werner Herzog (Rescue Dawn, Encounters at the End of the World), studying some of his most common themes (the madness of obsession and man pushed to the physical and psychological brink) brings us the story of Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald “Fitzcarraldo” (Herzog favorite, Klaus Kinski) who’s dream and determination to build an opera house in a remote Peruvian village, leads him on a quest to exploit the local rubber industry to acquire funds. In pursuit of a valuable but nearly inaccessible parcel of land, his indomitable will to realize his dream prompts him to haul a 300 ton steamer ship over a mountain with the help of the local, potentially hostile, natives. Herzog did not cut corners in the creation of this scenario and the images of such an extraordinary feat are a sight to behold. Kinski, as usual, gives an ardent performance as a man driven by a consuming obsession.

ES2

“I could die right now, Clem. I’m just… happy. I’ve never felt that before. I’m just exactly where I want to be.”

The General (1927)
Though overshadowed by and lesser known than Charlie Chaplin, who is one of the few, if perhaps only, silent comedians still universally recognized today, Buster Keaton was one of the few who’s comedic brilliance and physical dexterity rivaled Chaplin’s own. Though less of a sensitive storyteller than his peer, Keaton outdid him in the physical and mechanical invention of his comedy. Less graceful and balletic than Chaplin, his style was more plainly acrobatic. Keaton made around 10 full length silent films and a multitude of shorts. All of which are worth seeing. Of all his movies, The General, is the most commonly acclaimed as the masterpiece of his career. At the outbreak of the Civil War, derided by by his fellow southerners when he is rejected for enlistment, (due to his value as a railroad conductor) Johnny (Keaton) embarks on a trek through the war torn south to regain his honor and rescue his southern belle who is kidnapped by Northern spies. The General is also respected for it’s authentic production values.

Groundhog Day (1993)
The concept of a man who inexplicably begins living one single day over and over again, alone would have provided enough gags for a few films or even a sitcom. Thankfully though, the comedic potential of such a set-up was not abused. Director Harold Ramis did not take the lazy approach and rely on the automatic nature of such a gimmick, like most directors today would have, but instead used it in a heartfelt and meaningful take on a classic theme about a selfish and indifferent man who slowly learns to care about something other than himself. Bill Murray, in a role the deadpan smart-alec was born to play, is perfect as a weatherman who’s blatant immaturity, conceit and bored sarcasm suggests a man who stopped caring long ago. When he is inescapably trapped in the repetition of a single day, he is forced to experience the same encounters again and again until he learns to get it right and he learns how, with a little practice, just one day can change your life. The film is loosely based on a myth with a similar moral. Oh yeah, it’s absolutely hilarious.

FZ

“It’s only the dreamers who ever move mountains.”

No Country for Old Men (2007)
A harrowing moral fable, No Country For Old Men was based on the book by Cormack McCarthy and directed by the eccentric Coen brothers (Fargo). It won three Oscars in 2007 including Best Picture. When Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) happens upon the bloody aftermath between drug lords he also discovers a suitcase full of cash. Surrounded only by the dead, he assumes he can take the money without consequence and makes off with the bag. But the tag line goes “No getaway is clean.” and soon Moss finds himself hunted by a sociopathic hitman, played brilliantly by Javier Bardem who’s chilling performance as the nihilistic madman won him an Oscar for supporting actor. Tommy Lee Jones plays the local sheriff, a stoic but weather worn old timer who acts as a symbol of reason and sanity in a world that has seemingly hardened itself to both. Anytime an adaptation is so obviously laden with heavy moral themes and symbolism it’s easy to wonder if the story is still better served as a book but regardless, No Country for Old Men is a powerful movie. Not an easy one to watch, however, it is one of the most gripping films I’ve seen in some time. “What’s the most you ever lost in a coin toss?”

The Third Man (1949)
Quintessential thriller, The Third Man, is one of the most respected and prominent films in history. The movie is a kind of Noir drama, though it has a tone unlike most from either genre. It stars Joseph Cotton as, naive pulp writer, Holly Martin, who has just arrived in post war Vienna after receiving an invitation from an old friend. Upon arriving, he soon learns his friend was killed in an accident and is quickly thrust into a world of foreign intrigue, police, spies and dubious characters. Falling in love with his late friend’s girl, Holly remains in Vienna under the pretense of absolving his memory from accusations of corruption. The cinematography is gorgeous and the bombed out city is a character all it’s own. A sense of antiquity presides over the mystery, as Holly attempts to uncover the truth behind his friend’s untimely and suspicious death. The film also stars Orson Welles as Harry Lime. He gives a typically great performance, simultaneously threatening and charming, and delivers one of the best lines in any movie (The cuckoo clock speech).

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