Don’t just sit back and wait for Netflix to tell you what to watch. There are some incredible gems hiding in the catalog that won’t necessarily pop up on your home screen. Add these 10 great flicks to your queue and close out your summer in style!
Artificial Intelligence is coming for us, whether we like it or not. But what if that AI was housed in a gorgeous female body? And what if we fell in love with it? And what if everything went so, so, so wrong? “Ex Machina” is a quiet, impressive, thoughtful sci-fi film that features Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson, and, in a weird and amazing scene, Oscar Isaac’s incredible dance moves.
Before we had Netflix, we’d have to go to the video store and browse DVD or VHS covers for a few hours until we found just the right movie. We didn’t have Twitter or Facebook, so we’d have to pin down our friends to vent. Looking back at this 1994 indie classic (made for an insane $27,575), you get a glimpse at that world before the internet changed everything. This was also one of the first films to shine a light on the trend of underemployment. Sure we could be CEOs and lawyers and doctors, but that seems like a lot of work. Maybe it’s easier to stand behind a counter for a decade or so, commenting on the world but not participating in it.
Although Kevin Smith has since devolved into a bizarre self-parody, he had a brief moment in the late 90s when he actually had something to say. “Clerks” is far from perfect. The scenes are uniformly static, the acting is dodgy, and some of the content doesn’t hold up. But it captured the frustration and desperation of a generation staring down the barrel of a shrinking middle class. And it’s also pretty funny. If this film were made today, it would just be a web series. But in 1994, you could make something like this, get scooped up at Sundance, and start a film career.
Million Dollar Baby
Winner of four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, “Million Dollar Baby” is a boxing movie for people who hate boxing movies. Take the hustle and determination of Rocky, throw in a pair of grizzled old trainers, and add a wallop of a plot twist and you’ve got yourself a great film. Hillary Swank picked up her second Best Actress Oscar for her role as the gritty boxer Maggie Fitgerald. Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman are her trainers, looking to exorcize old demons by fostering a new champion. This isn’t just another movie about a boxer who defies the odds to win a title. It’s a careful character study about people under pressure. This movie will stay with you for a long, long time.
No Country for Old Men
It’s another movie that cleaned up at the Oscars, pulling four statues back in 2007. And 2007 was a packed year for great movies. “No Country for Old Men” feels like a genre mix-up of a western, a heist movie, a horror movie, and a cop-on-his-last-day-on-the-beat movie. When you watch this through, your instinct will be to follow Josh Brolin’s character as the hero. But that’s a mistake. This movie is about Tommy Lee Jones’ character. Like most Coen Brothers movies, this one rewards additional viewings, so even if you’ve seen it before, it’s worth another go. And can we talk about how freakin’ creepy Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh is? Add this to your queue today, friend-o.
The Godfather & The Godfather Part II
You’ve spent your whole life hearing how good these movies are. Have you ever actually watched them? Because they are every bit as good as the hype. The movie begins with the words, “I believe in America.” And everything you see after that shows that these characters believe in a very specific kind of America – the kind where enough money and muscle can rewrite the rules, if only for a time. These are movies about the American myth, the rules we follow and break, the price of loyalty and the agony of betrayal, and the terrible costs we pay to make our dreams come true.
The cast could not be better. Over these two films, you’ll see Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, John Cazale, Talia Shire, and Robert De Niro. You can watch these movies over and over again, finding something new each time. Try watching it through while focusing only on Fredo. Or Kay. Or Tom Hagen. Every character feels rich and textured and worn. Everyone has baggage and triggers. Everyone screws up and pays for it. Watch “The Godfather” on Saturday night. Watch “The Godfather Part II” on Sunday night. Go to work on Monday as a changed person.
Sure, De Niro and Pacino were in “The Godfather Part II” together, but they never shared the screen at the same time until this fantastic 1995 crime thriller. Have you ever been crushing it at the casino, but instead of walking away with your winnings, you keep playing until your wallet is empty? The same thing happens in “Heat.” De Niro leads a crew of bank robbers (including an excellent Val Kilmer) as they rack up scores in Los Angeles. Pacino is the detective trying to track them down. Will De Niro’s crew retire in time? Or will they stick around for one too many jobs? You already know the answer to that. The beauty of “Heat” is watching very smart characters being seduced by some very bad decisions. Martin Scorsese selected this as one of the ten best movies of the 1990s. I mean, come on. Watch this tonight.
The Stanford Prison Experiment
Based on a true story, “The Stanford Prison Experiment” tells the story of a handful of random college students selected to prove a point. Half were made “guards” and half were made “inmates.” The idea was to see if students role-playing a prison scenario would manifest some of the problems that occur in real prisons. And boy, do they ever. If you ever wanted to know how something like Abu Ghraib could happen, this is how. The study has since come under a lot of scrutiny, but it asks an important question: If your job was to subjugate your fellow humans, how far would you go? This dramatization is well acted by Billy Crudup and a solid team of young actors. Add it to your queue when you’re ready for a psychological thrill ride.
Joaquin Phoenix’s Theodore Twombly is lonely. Thankfully, he lives in the future where there’s an AI personal assistant to scratch that itch. As we become less and less connected to actual humans, we end up filling that need with technology. It’s not hard to imagine that Siri could soon try to take the place of our significant others. “Her” is the rare sci-fi film that asks us to examine our lives in the present. It’s silly and sweet and thought-provoking. If you’ve ever spent a day staring at your phone and never speaking with an actual human, you need to watch this movie. Because this science fiction will very shortly become science fact. (Except for the high-waisted pants. We hope that never happens.)
Do not Google anything about “Moon.” The less you know, the more you’ll enjoy it. Here’s what we’ll tell you:
Sam Rockwell plays Sam Bell, a guy stuck all alone on the moon because of a mining mission. It’s pretty lonely on the moon. His only companionship is a robot companion named GERTY. Sam occasionally gets recorded messages from his wife on Earth. As you might imagine, Sam is pretty excited to wrap up his job and go home. And then… something happens.
Don’t Google it! Hey! We see you. Back away from the Googles.
“Moon” is a haunting and beautiful film. Rockwell has never been better (sorry, “Three Billboards”). Even if you’re not a sci-fi fan, you’ll be able to appreciate the drama of a man cut off from the people and the place he loves. It’s kind of like “Cast Away” in space. This is one of those movies that everyone bugs you to see, and once you see it, you become one of those people who bugs everyone else to see it. It’s that good.
You know what? We’re not even going to show you the trailer because the trailer reveals too much. Here’s a picture of Sam Rockwell. That’s all we’re giving you. Go watch “Moon.”
1994 might have been the best year ever for movies. “The Shawshank Redemption” and “Pulp Fiction” opened on the exact same day. “Forrest Gump.” “Speed.” “True Lies.” “The Lion King.” Jim Carrey’s big splashes with “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” and “Dumb and Dumber.” “Clear and Present Danger.” “Ed Wood.” “Stargate.” “Leon: The Professional.” As cinematic years go, 1994 had something for everyone. With such amazing films vying for our attention, it’s no wonder that everyone forgets about “Quiz Show.”
Based on a true story, Rober Redford’s “Quiz Show” takes us back to 1958, when America loved flipping on their brand new TVs to watch a trivia show called “Twenty-One.” The questions were absurdly hard. But a guy named Herb Stempel (John Turturro) was on a multi-show winning streak. Enter handsome Charles Van Doren (Ralph Fiennes), the son of a prominent academic family. The show’s producers see a star in the making, so they convince Charles to come on the show. But to get Charles to become the champion, they need to get Herb out of the way. How do you force a champion trivia nerd to lose?
What happened next became a national scandal. Rob Morrow and his dodgy Boston accent swoop in to investigate. The drama that unfolds shows us the perils of good men who make bad decisions. It’s tense. It’s funny. It’s joyful. It’s thought-provoking. “Quiz Show” stands the test of time, even if those other gems from 24 years ago shine more brightly on the IMDB charts.