Saturday, January 16, 2010

Ben's Top 10 Netflix Rentals of 2009

Goddamn, I love Netflix. Whether I'm catching up on new stuff that I missed in theatres, watching or re-watching old stuff, or just vegging out to crappy sex comedies or bizarre French art films, it has literally changed my life over the past few years. In 2009, I watched a total of 104 movies that were either sent to me in the little red envelope or via the wonders of streaming video. I would have watched a lot more, but my DVD player broke in late November AND I went on a big-screen movie-watching rampage towards the end of the year. But whatever... that's still a lot of movies, and here are my top ten favorites....

10. THE ROOM (2003) -- We may never know if writer/director/star/mastermind Tommy Wiseau intentionally set out to create the "best worst movie" of the past decade, or if he was actually trying to make a serious drama about relationships and deception... but suffice to say, he succeeded in the former. This movie, which I added to my queue after a recommendation from my friend Matt, is a glorious mess of ridiculousness. It makes absolutely no sense, the acting is laughably bad, there are non sequiturs upon non sequiturs, scenes and characters that are completely out of place (one scene where a group of guys toss around a football while wearing tuxedos for no apparent reason is a highlight)... and, really, everything about it is absolutely horrendous... and I mean this in the best possible way, because it's also fucking hilarious!

9. THE LIMITS OF CONTROL (2009) -- Jim Jarmusch gives us this bizarre mystery in which we follow an assassin known only as the "Lone Man" (Isaac de Bankole) as he travels around Spain, receiving clues from various accomplices and piecing together the true nature of both the job and life itself. The Lone Man is intently focused on his work, yet the events that surround him take on an almost dreamlike feel, thanks to the lush cinematography, purposeful repetitions ("You don't speak Spanish, do you?"), and the strange characters he meets along the way, with their cryptic, philosophical monologues about life, love, film and science. Sounds vague and weird and borderline pretentious? Well, it is all of those things, but somehow it works.

8. THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS (2008) -- Yeah, yeah, I know that Holocaust movies are semi-cheating because they are automatically powerful -- doubly so when they involve children -- but this one was particularly good. It's about an eight-year-old German boy named Bruno whose family lives adjacent to a concentration camp. One day, he encounters and befriends another boy, Shmuel, who lives behind an electric fence and wears striped pajamas. Bruno knows this friendship is forbidden but can't understand why, and he begins to question everything he has been taught about Nazism. The story is deeply moving, the kids are fantastic, and their relationship culminates in what amounts to a suckerpunch to the gut.

7. DINER (1982) -- I re-watched this movie as a tribute to Mickey Rourke shortly after he got robbed of the Best Actor award for THE WRESTLER. Fantastic film about a group of friends who hang out at the diner as an escape from the harsh realities of life. Awesome cast, including Daniel Stern, Steve Guttenberg, Kevin Bacon and of course, Rourke (almost unrecognizable compared to how he looks nowadays) as the smooth-talking ladies' man. Awesome conversations about sex, music and life in general that make me nostalgic for my own youth when my friends and I would hang out at the diner for hours on end and talk about anything and everything. I believe this was Barry Levinson's first film -- and arguably his best.

6. SLEEPAWAY CAMP (1983) -- I don't know how I ever could have called myself a horror fan without having seen this cult-classic, but fortunately, that was rectified in 2009. The plot is simple: Awkward, shy Angela goes to summer camp with her protective cousin Ricky. Shortly after their arrival, a series of bizarre, bloody deaths occur. This movie has it all -- gruesomely creative kills (ladies, you'll never look at a curling iron the same way again), plenty of gore, ultra-cheesy acting & dialogue, and one of the greatest shocker endings in horror movie history. Plus it was surprisingly ahead of its time with themes of gender and sexuality. Tremendous fun.

5. MAN ON WIRE (2008) -- A incredible documentary about Philippe Petit, the French stuntman who walked across a wire that he illegally strung up between the Twin Towers in 1974. The story is presented almost like a heist film, documenting Petit's life and past stunts before focusing on the incredible lengths to which he went to pull off this crazy endeavour -- sneaking the heavy equipment into the World Trade Center, hiding from guards, etc. I can't imagine this kind of thing happening again in this day and age, and rightly so... but Petit's journey is fascinating and riveting, and of course the film serves as a nice tribute to the fallen towers whose simplistic grandeur will always be missed.

4. POPEYE (1980) -- Can somebody please explain to me why Robert Altman's brilliant take on everybody's favorite spinach-chomping, big-forearmed sailor never gets mentioned among the best live action cartoon/comic movies of all time? Because it totally is. Robin Williams has had a great career, but Popeye is the role he was born to play -- he is perfect, particularly when he's just mumbling under his breath between lines (clearly all ad-libbed). Shelley Duvall as Olive Oyl, with her weird-looking lankiness, is also eerily well-cast. All in all, it's as vibrant, fun and memorable as any such movie I've ever seen -- there need not ever be another Popeye movie, because no one will ever do it better.

3. ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968) -- It's a shame that Roman Polanski is, y'know, an evil child rapist who deserves to be wiped off the face of the earth, because goddamn he is a great filmmaker. Around the time of his, um, legal troubles last year, I watched a bunch of his movies, and it shouild come as no surprise that this classic tale of terror and paranoia is his very best -- creepy and unsettling and expertly crafted, clearly one of the great psychological horror films of all time. It's also easy to see why Frank Sinatra got so pissed at Mia Farrow for making this movie -- it WAS some f'd up shit. But sorry, Frank, it was worth it!

2. NETWORK (1976) -- Peter Finch gives one of cinema's most memorable performances as Howard Beale, a network news anchor who basically loses his mind on the air and proceeds to go off on a series of outrageous rants... which in turn boosts ratings and makes him a household name. Clearly ahead of its time and a harbinger of things to come in today's world of reality TV, trashy news and corporate everything, it's a tremendous film that features one of the most memorable bits of dialogue in ANY movie, ever: "I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it and stick your head out and yell, 'I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!'" (Side note: The Mets used to use that scene as a rally cry at Shea -- instead of "I'm as mad as hell..." a "Let's Go Mets" chant would begin. They didn't bring it over to Citi Field, but I think we, the fans, should resurrect it in its true form in 2010... we need it now more than ever!)

...and finally....

1. CARNAL KNOWLEDGE (1971) -- I went on a big Mike Nichols kick in 2009 in which I watched seven or eight of his movies, and it was a great ride indeed. His first four movies alone -- WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF, THE GRADUATE, CATCH-22 and CARNAL KNOWLEDGE, would be enough classics for most people's entire careers... but he kept going over the next three decades with films like SILKWOOD, HEARTBURN, BILOXI BLUES, WORKING GIRL, POSTCARDS FROM THE EDGE, REGARDING HENRY, THE BIRDCAGE, PRIMARY COLORS, CLOSER and CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR. Sure, there were rare missteps like WOLF and WHAT PLANET ARE YOU FROM, but all in all, I think it's safe to say that Mike Nichols is one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. CARNAL KNOWLEDGE (which I had somehow never seen before) is a sordid, brutally honest, downright depressing tale of two men and their relationship issues throughout life. Like many of Nichols' best, it is driven primarily by scathing dialogue and outstanding performances. Jack Nicholson is at his best as a charismatic misogynist, while Art Garfunkel is more of a romantic -- together they become friends and embark on a journey through empty relationships and affairs that leave them emotionally unsatisfied and unhappy. Candice Bergen and Ann-Margret are scintillating as the two main women in their lives, but this movie is unrelenting towards both sexes with its ravaging, cynical outlook on love, sex and relationships. THE GRADUATE remains my favorite Nichols film (and, indeed, one of my favorite movies of all-time), but CARNAL KNOWLEDGE is a masterpiece in its own right and the creme de la creme of my 2009 Netflix experience!


Other Noteworthy Titles (in random order):

Anvil: The Story of Anvil. Coraline. Working Girl. Midnight Cowboy. Postcards from the Edge. Harvey. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? The House of Yes. From Here to Eternity. The Color of Money. Candy. Silkwood. Baghead. Hannah Takes the Stairs. Catch-22. Love Liza. Marley & Me. The Last House on the Left. Biloxi Blues. Valkyrie. The Fall. The Girlfriend Experience.


And now... my Top 5 WORST Netflix Rentals of 2009!

5. LOL (2006) -- Early in '09, I enjoyed a movie called HANNAH TAKES THE STAIRS (and developed a crush on soon-to-be-better-known actress Greta Gerwig, but I digress), which in turn led me to this movie by the same director, Joe Swanberg. This one was not very good... but I still enjoy this whole "mumblecore" thing in general.
4. RIGHTEOUS KILL (2008) -- Thirteen years earlier, Pacino & DeNiro were on screen together for the first time in HEAT and it was awesome. This time... not so much. Terrible, generic shlock and an insult to their past greatness.
3. HOUNDDOG (2007) -- Also known as the "Dakota Fanning Gets Raped" movie... though if it wasn't for that, it wouldn't be known as anything because it's just flat awful.
2. UNDERGROUND COMEDY MOVIE (1999) -- I watched this sketch-comedy clusterfuck out of morbid curiosity because it was written & directed by Vince Offer, aka the ShamWow/SlapChop pitchman. That should pretty much sum up the suckitude of this debacle.
1. THE ROOM (2003) -- Naturally... and for all the same reasons I already discussed. It may be the BEST worst movie... but it's still the worst!

Thoughts? Criticisms? Coffee? Tea? Lemonade? Do tell. And I fully expect to watch considerably more Netflix this year, now that I own a shiny new Blu-Ray player that has built-in streaming Netflix capabilities... f'ing sweet.


  1. Cool list. I haven't seen ANY of these movies other than Popeye, so they now will go on my queue. I've been wanting to see Man on Wire for a while. Anvil is next on my queue already

    Diner is one of those movies that helps the Kevin Bacon game work.

  2. I think you meant Shelley Duvall? :)

  3. You are correct, sir! 'Tis fixed!