As you know, I see a lot of movies on the big screen... but it so happens that last year, I saw even MORE movies in the comfort of my own home, on my 42" HDTV, thanks to one of the greatest inventions of the 21st century -- NETFLIX! It's true -- a total of 108 little red envelopes arrived in my mailbox in 2008 (actually that's not true, since I watched some of them via Netflix's streaming video, but you get the picture). My Netflix queue is pretty much on crack -- perpetually a crazy mix of old classics, weird foreign films, new stuff that I didn't have time to see in theatres, interesting recommendations, and random shit that caught my eye. And now, I'd like to present my Top 10 favorites:
10. FRANK & OLLIE (1995) -- Great little documentary about Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, two of the original Disney animators who are responsible for some of the most iconic images, not just in movie history, but in the history of mankind. The Seven Dwarfs crying before Snow White's supposedly-dead body... Bambi and Thumper ice skating... Lady and the Tramp's spaghetti kiss... the list goes on. The film discusses their work as well as their long-lasting friendship, and it is truly fascinating stuff for fans of Disney and film in general. (Side note: Sadly, Ollie -- the last living member of the "Nine Old Men" -- passed away in April '08... one of many, many 2008 deaths that left a great void in the world of cinema.)
9. THE COMMITMENTS (1991) -- You may recall that I had a big case of ONCE fever for the first few months of '08 after falling head-over-heels for the movie at the end of '07. (In fact, I am still in love with it and it is the most recent movie to find a home in my all-time Top 5. So good.) As a result of this obsession, I rented this movie, which stars Glen Hansard, and was very impressed. Directed by Alan Parker, it's about an Irish guy who wants to form a soul band in Dublin. He pieces together a ragtag group of musicians (Hansard is the guitarist) and they begin their rise to the top. But as their popularity grows, will internal strife threaten to tear them apart? Great film about getting a band together, featuring solid acting, entertaining, expletive-filled Irish dialogue and of course, excellent music.
8. LA BELLE NOISEUSE (1991) -- Did I include this four-hour French film because it contains a two-hour stretch featuring the delectable, fully-nude form of Emanuelle Beart? I admit, her presence is what caused me to initially add it to my queue. I didn't realize its length until it arrived as a two-disc set... but it turned out to be a fascinating study of an artist at work. Yes, Emanuelle was naked for two hours and it was nice indeed... but during that time, we got to see the entire process, from setup to completion, with all manner of emotional turmoil between artist and subject, as the former struggles to come to terms with his life's work and the latter tries to figure herself out. Sounds pretentious, yes... but it's actually quite good.
7. FEAST OF LOVE (2007) -- I remember being very interested in this movie when it first came out, but I never got around to it because it was critically panned and didn't last long in theatres. Which is a shame, because it's actually quite good. It's one of those intersecting-story movies, centered around a small-town coffee shop where various people meet and experience various tales of love and loss. Solid ensemble cast including Greg Kinnear, Morgan Freeman, Jane Alexander, the scintillating (and oft-nude) Radha Mitchell, Selma Blair and others. Interesting characters, storylines and takes on the trials and tribulations of love and relationships, with some twists thrown in here and there for good measure. (Side note: I was stunned when, during a montage of love scenes, they played a different variation of "Falling Slowly" from ONCE, unquestionably my favorite song in years. That surely added a few bonus points to an already-excellent film!)
6. INSIDE (2007) -- A really freakin' scary French horror flick about a woman who is about to give birth to a miracle baby, four months after she was injured in a car crash in which her husband died. On Christmas Eve, the night before she is scheduled to go to the hospital, she is visited at home by a crazy nurse who is intent on taking the baby for herself -- BEFORE it is born -- by any means necessary, with whatever sharp objects she can get her hands on. Most of movie follows a horrific game of cat-and-mouse as the nurse stalks Sarah through her house. Intense gore, legit scares and truly unsettling visuals make this one of the most effective horror films I've seen in a while.
5. THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD (1965) -- There were so many deaths in '08 that I plan on having a big box of tissues handy during the Oscars' In Memoriam segment. It is gonna be rough. But perhaps the most painful for me was that of Charlton Heston, one of cinema's true giants. After he died, I added a slew of his movies to my Netflix, most of which could easily dominate this list -- but instead, I've picked this one to represent them all. It's the story of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (played masterfully by Max von Sydow), with an all-star supporting cast, including Heston in a scene-stealing turn as John the Baptitst. I am not a religious person by any means, but I love religious epics (THE TEN COMMANDMENTS being my all-time favorite, of course) -- and this is certainly one of the best, the likes of which we may never see again.
4. SOPHIE'S CHOICE (1982) -- If you ever have any doubt as to Meryl Streep's absolute mastery of her craft, you need look no further. One of most gut-wrenching stories ever put to celluloid, it's the story of Sophie, a beautiful Polish immigrant (Streep) and her lover (Kevin Kline in his debut role) who share a boarding house with a young writer in Brooklyn in the late 1940's. Their friendship blossoms, and more about Sophie's life is revealed -- namely, that she is a Holocaust survivor. As more and more layers of truth are pulled back, the true nature of Sophie's horrific experiences are revealed. All three main performances are fantastic, but watching Streep embody Sophie's pain and turmoil is nothing short of spectacular -- this had to have been one of the biggest no-brainer Oscar wins in history.
3. ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT: THE COMPLETE SERIES (2003-2006) -- I don't watch many TV shows, but this is one that people have been constantly telling me that I would love if only I'd give it a chance. Well, I finally watched all three seasons on DVD this past summer and, holy shit, it was awesome. The show follows the misadventures of the uber-dysfunctional Bluth family after patriarch George Sr. is thrown in jail. Level-headed son Michael takes over the family business, but his crazy mom & siblings, his relationship with his mild-mannered son and his rocky love life don't make it easy for him. It's bizarre, irreverant, inappropriate, smart as hell, perfectly cast, and friggin' hilarious -- it's an absolute travesty that it was cancelled after only three seasons. Let's hope that the upcoming movie reunion comes to fruition! (Note to Michael Cera, the apparent only holdout from the cast: STOP BEING A DICK AND REMEMBER YOUR ROOTS!)
2. IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER (1993) -- I was so awestruck by THERE WILL BE BLOOD at the end of '07 that I added Daniel Day-Lewis's complete flimography to my queue. They were all great, and Day-Lewis was always incredible... but this one stands above the rest. Day-Lewis plays Gerry Conlon, a small-time Irish thief who is falsely convicted of being behind the IRA's bombing of a London pub. He is tortured and thrown into jail, along with his father, where he spends the next 15 years trying to prove his innocence. Day-Lewis' Oscar-nominated performance is outstanding, and further proof of his genius. We're talking about a guy who, in the past 20 years, has only made nine movies... but has been nominated for FOUR Oscars, with two wins. Just... wow.
1. THE HUSTLER (1961) -- Another '08 death that knocked the movie world for a loop was that of Paul Newman, and once again, I embarked on a Netflix tribute for the next few weeks. How this classic has eluded me all these years is beyond me, but I now feel like a more complete movie buff for having seen it. Newman plays a "Fast Eddie," a small-time pool player with an explosive attitude who foolishly challenges the legendary Minnesota Fats, (expertly played by "the Great One," Jackie Gleason)... only to have his bravado get the best of him and send him spiraling towards rock bottom. Can Fast Eddie get his career -- and life -- back on track before it's too late? Fantastic film, masterful performances from two of the greatest actors of all time, with intense pool sequences that make me wish I didn't suck so much at the game (aside from the occasional sweet behind-the-back shot). This was easily the best Newman movie I watched during my tribute... and, indeed, the best movie I rented from Netflix all year!
Other Noteworthy Titles (in random order):
The Last of the Mohicans. My Left Foot. Roman Holiday. Away From Her. Trade. Pretty Things. El Cid. Soylent Green. The Agony and the Ecstacy. August Rush. Grace is Gone. Drop Dead Gorgeous. The Killing of John Lennon. Bamboozled. Hud. Zombie Strippers. An American Crime. Play It Again, Sam. Smiley Face. Meet Bill. Blue State. The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson.
And now, the Top 5 WORST Netflix Rentals of 2008:
5. ALIENS VS. PREDATOR: REQUIEM (2007) -- Seems like a movie about Aliens and Predators wrecking each other's shit should be easy to accomplish... but now we have TWO movies that fucked it up royally. Too bad.
4. GOYA'S GHOSTS (2006) -- Plodding, badly-scripted film about the Spanish Inquisition and stuff from Milos Foreman. Huge waste of Javier Bardem's talent, and further proof that Natalie Portman doesn't have as much as she's given credit for.
3. ALL THE REAL GIRLS (2003) -- Weird, all-around-poorly-executed film about a guy who has fucked every girl in town, except for sparkly-eyed Zooey Deschanel, with whom he embarks on a long, slow, boring courtship.
2. PRETTY BABY (1978) -- This horrendous, controversial film stars 12-year-old Brooke Shields as a girl who grows up in the New Orleans red-light district. Inappropriate nudity and situations pretty much ensure that I really AM on several government lists... dammit!
1. SPEAKING OF SEX (2001) -- It's hard to find the words to accurately describe just how bad this slapstick sex comedy is. A couple with sex issues seeks professional help, and hijinks ensue... except none of it is the least bit funny. In fact, it's downright embarrassing, and everyone involved -- including James Spader, Catherine O'Hara and for God's sake, Bill Murray -- should be ashamed of themselves!
And there you have it. There are over 175 movies in my Netflix queue as we speak, spanning all genres, so I look forward to a very diverse movie-watching experience this year. I'm also always on the lookout for new suggestions and recommendations... so don't be shy! And if you have Netflix, befriend me so we can look and laugh at each other's queues and stuff!