Netflix in September: A Spontaneous, Unpredictable Guide

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Dear readers,

It’s been too long. I’ve missed this space. So I’m going to write a guide to what movies you could binge-watch right now, on Netflix, before they disappear from the site. Also ahead this hour: my top picks for “incoming Netflix movies that you think you should see, but actually should avoid.”

I’m skipping new seasons of established shows, of course. wouldn’t recommend the second season of Narcos, personally, but your mileage may vary. I’m also skipping films like Scary Movie 2, since it doesn’t matter whether or not you watch them. (Unless you die unexpectedly and your last words are, “What about Scary Movie 2? It’s on streaming and I feel like watching something funny!”)

LAST CHANCE: A BINGEING MENU

The Bridge on the River Kwai

“I hate the British! You are defeated but you have no shame. You are stubborn but you have no pride. You endure but you have no courage.” -Saito

This is a film about the subtle and revolutionary power of dignity. It concerns people in exceptional circumstances — prisoners of war — but theirs is a victory in a war we all fight, every day, against exploitation. Don’t let Obi-Wan Kenobi be the only thing you know about Alec Guinness. (After all, he hasn’t used that name in a long time. A long time.) Most people I know, when it comes to politics, support direct action over gradual reform. The Bridge on the River Kwai is the best argument anybody’s ever made for choosing the other, more gentle path.

Days of Thunder

“Control is an illusion, you infantile egomaniac. Nobody knows what’s gonna happen next: not on a freeway, not in an airplane, not inside our own bodies and certainly not on a racetrack with 40 other infantile egomaniacs.” -Dr. Claire Lewicki

Nicole Kidman is absolutely terrifying as a spunky doctor who likes her romances ambivalent. Tom Cruise tries everything to impress her, including marrying her off-screen, but it’s all fast, reckless, and doomed. Like most Tom Cruise movies, this feels like a movie. It feels like eating popcorn and screening your incoming calls. Unlike most Tom Cruise movies, there is a heartbreaking subplot involving Michael Rooker (Yondu from Guardians of the Galaxy), as a man whose career is slowly, and then quickly, killing him. Days of Thunder is what Concussion might have been if it had gone about educating the public without trying so damn hard.

Roman Holiday

“I’ve never been alone with a man before, even with my dress on. With my dress off, it’s most unusual.” -Princess Ann

Audrey Hepburn stars as herself in a film in which she does various things in a feckless, youthful manner, imbuing everything with a wistful charm. The pace is quick. The other actors — and I am quite certain there were some — all stand around gamely, politely advancing the plot, while Audrey chews up the (primarily) Italian scenery.

Traffic

[something gritty and authentic, said in Spanish]Javier Rodriguez

A racist, unrealistic film that seems to be saying something important, but isn’t…so why watch it? Because it’s so stylish. This is a movie as sly and glamorous as Ocean’s 11, by the same director.

Smoking crack. Being incorruptible in a corrupt organization. Suddenly running a strange new business because your husband’s dead. All things which suck, right? Well, this movie, perverse and charming, dares to make all three seem cool. Soderbergh, you rascal!

Defending Your Life

Daniel Miller: “Oh, yes. I had a bond with my father. I pretty much never lied to him.”
Lena Foster: “You never lied to your father? Would you like me to show you at least 500 examples?”

A great premise: what if the afterlife began with arguing, in court, for your place in heaven? The film is weird and unforgettable, and studies our moral arguments for and against ourselves. It’s like a great undiscovered Woody Allen film. Last year, somebody actually told me I was so reprehensible that I didn’t have the right to exist. “I know,” I said. “I’ve seen Defending Your Life. Have you?” They didn’t know what to say!

Zoolander

“I’m pretty sure there’s a lot more to life than being really, really, ridiculously good looking. And I plan on finding out what that is.” -Derek Zoolander

This film, like Austin Powers 2, gets funnier over time. It starts out watchable. Two weeks later it is goddamn hilarious. It ages like a fine wine inside your own head. Thesis: we all live in Zoolander’s world. The world makes incomprehensible, chaotic political claims upon our lives. Living through The Great Recession was like being Zoolander. Your only hope for sanity begins with the quotes, and facial expressions, you might glean from this motion picture.

How To Train Your Dragon 2

“Good dragons under the control of bad people do bad things.” -Valka

This film is a wonder. It has an inspiring message, but since it is a cartoon, I’ll skip the inspiring message. The bottom line is that, like Inside Out and Big Hero 6How To Train Your Dragon 2 creates a visual language that matches up perfectly with its story and themes. It’s not a “kid’s movie for adults.” It’s a movie that sees with a child’s eyes, depicting all the beauty, and threat, and loss, we adults often find too painful to acknowledge.

Fringe and Alias: Seasons 1…to whenever

Danny: Sir, I love your daughter and I want to marry her. That’s why I’m calling.
Agent Jack Bristow: First of all, Danny, the truth is this is just a courtesy call. Like when you say to your neighbor, “We’re having a loud party on Saturday night if that’s all right with you,” what you really mean is, “We’re having a loud party on Saturday night.”

Both of these films were made by teams who went mad, and obsessively kept going, long after the curtain had come down. While many critics believe these are television shows, know that they are actually just classic, 20 hr long science-fiction films. Watch them from the moment you get hooked — in Fringe, when Ian Holm appears, and in Alias, when Syd dies her hair red — until you’ve had your fill.

Wolf

Will Randall: You know, I think I understand what you’re like now. You’re very beautiful and you think men are only interested in you because you’re beautiful, but you want them to be interested in you because you’re you. The problem is, aside from all that beauty, you’re not very interesting. You’re rude, you’re hostile, you’re sullen, you’re withdrawn. I know you want someone to look past all that, at the real person underneath, but the only reason anyone would bother to look past all that is because you’re beautiful. Ironic, isn’t it? In an odd way you’re your own problem.
Laura Alden: Sorry. Wrong line. I am not taken aback by your keen insight and suddenly challenged by you.

By the director of The Graduate, who never made a bad film. It’s a thinking-man’s werewolf movie, and as you might suppose, that puts it in a very small, select group. Most werewolf movies assume that lycanthropy is a curse. This film goes the other way. Like Anne Rice, it views lycanthropy as primarily a gift. That’s only logical. Think back on your day. What did you worry about? Would you still obsess over those things if you were a werewolf? Of course you wouldn’t. Lycanthropy is a foolproof cure for neurosis. Watch Jack Nicholson pretend, briefly, to be a nebbish, then sit back and enjoy as Werewolf Jack begins having the time of his life. When I interviewed Mike Nichols, he claimed that he made Wolf because “nobody was watching Carnal Knowledge. So I made the same movie over again with werewolves.” He was drunk and coughing savagely. “There, there,” I said soothingly. “There, there.” I didn’t have the heart to tell him nobody saw Wolf either.

INCOMING FILMS YOU CAN SAFELY IGNORE

Crash

Netflix will undoubtedly recommend this to you, no matter what you really like. This is one of those unforgivable movies that splits you into two people: your bored self, and your guilty, didactic conscience. “Did you see how racist that was?” your conscience will ask, at the end of each scene. The correct answer is always the same: “Yes.” Crash did about as much to advance our national conversation about racism as Traffic did to thwart drug smugglers.

Man on Wire

You know how everyone has some kind of special dream, something impossible that they are called to do? Well, one man had the courage to give up on that dream, and instead do something extremely possible, namely walking a tightrope between the two towers of the World Trade Building. If this film doesn’t make you afraid that you’re wasting your life, then nothing will. It really does give me The Fear. What if I’m carefully walking a tightrope, my life in peril, after long and intensive preparations, and meanwhile (on the sidewalk below) countless people are making the same journey safely, blithely, in a fraction of the time? It’s like a metaphor for how not to live.

Defiance

A genuinely reactionary film about Jews resisting the Nazis. This seems like an oxymoron, but consider the cultural context for Defiance, i.e. cinematic portrayals of Jews as “victims” of the Holocaust and the Nazi death camps. Do such films imply that Jews are sheepish or weak? I’m talking about films like The Gray Zone, Schindler’s List, Life is Beautiful, The Sorrow and the Pity, and Judgement at Nuremberg. No. Again: no. To think otherwise is genuinely barbaric. To self-consciously promote Jewish “strength” and “defiance” as an alternative cinema is to misunderstand the meaning of enduring, and surviving, attempted genocide.

Saving Private Ryan

Do you know how many people were killed during WWII? That’s right. A lot. This movie uses special effects to show what it must have been like to be surrounded by dying people. That, however, does not equal a plot, or good characterization, or anything else we want from our fictions. Plus, you’ve already seen it! When it came out, in theaters! Don’t re-watch Saving Private Ryan. I come bearing good news: Days of Thunder is actually a better use of your time.

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Until next time, this is Kugelmass, saying: do not go gently into that good site.

 

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