Showing 1 - 1 of 1 Movie Blogs
And finally the last (top) 10 films available for streaming.
I first started a list of the 50 best films available for Netflix streaming, that eventually became this one, all the way back in May 09, (there's no way it's been that long!) published part one in July and wrapped it up in August with this Top 10. Not surprisingly, given the temporal nature of streaming status, the relevancy of a list such as this is likewise transient. I'm pretty sure most of these films, are actually still available however, and that is surprising.
"Must" lists are always a little dubious, at best they can be helpful but do so at the risk of being boring and unimaginitive compilations of popular/critical opinion, at worst they are so personalized the titular insistancy of it's own unsubstantiated importance is insulting, to anyone who disagrees with just one choice. With this list I may be in danger of both, which may be as good as it gets for this type of thing.
So, for what it's worth...
10. Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
If there was such as thing as a cautionary comedy Dr. Strangelove would fit in that category. It might be a relevant caution against war and the proliferation of nuclear weapons if it wasn't so deliberately absurd. The film is perfectly and completely goofy, committed to it's spoofery with a kind of total sobriety that makes the whole thing that much funnier and this is the real genius of Dr. Strangelove. It's a lark, but a deadly serious one. The film concerns the initiation of nuclear war at the hands of a dillusional military officer and stars George C. Scott and Peter Sellers (who plays two roles). Both actors give great performances and the film provides plenty of opportunities for them to thoroughly enjoy the comedic posturing of their respective roles. The writing is superb and supplies several classic lines ("...you can't fight in here! This is the War Room!") Dr. Strangelove is one of the iconic classics of comedy.
9. Breathless (1960)
Considered by many to be acclaimed director Jean Luc Godard's finest, About De Suffle (french title) took first place on the British Film Institutes de-centennial survey of the greatest films of all time the only time Citizen Kane hasn't (That was 1952). A seminal work of the French New Wave it practically defines it and to this day is perhaps the finest example of it's self-liberation, youth, social anxiety and boldness. The film and it's revolution has influenced the course of cinema and it's contemporary form with it's liberating approach to story, characters and technique as well as it's self awareness and angst. The rebellion of it's young couple is reflected in Dunaway and Beatty's Bonnie and Clyde and echoed again in Pierrot Le Fou (also available in streaming) which Godard made years later. The lengthy exchange between man and woman which anchors the film was a method he later relied upon in Contempt as well. To watch Breathless now is to look back on a film that reverberates with the nerve and passion of a movement in which film was being rediscovered as a medium as well as a social statement. There is a violence, not only in subject matter (the New Wave drew from the provocative cool of earlier gangster and crime films) but in the recklessness with which it is told. The French New Wave was a time of discovery, and necessarily as a result, one of letting go.
8. Casablanca (1942)
So well known, it's easy to take Casablanca for granted or even dismiss it as an over-appreciated antique. However the stature of this film is warranted and so to the enduring memory of it's images not out of posterity for a cherished relic but for it's brilliance as a film which still holds up today as an example of sublimely perfect filmmaking. The efficiency of the screenplay is one of the first things I noticed re-visiting the film. The way it shuffles a deck of characters, sub-plots and back-story deftly blending them together as an endearing drama and cultivates them within the exotic antiquity of it's setting and that of Rick's Cafe is amazing. It works on practically every level and deserves credit for it's performances, writing and technical precision, the culmination of which result in a dream of a picture. The unanimity of certain classics can sometimes exhaust their appeal and deplete our interest in them. They're great. We know it. Next. We don't deny their quality, but we often forget about it. Casablanca might be the most universal classic of them all. Watching it again more recently I was reminded why. It deserves the respect and status it has attained and as well as a second look, and naturally a first should that be the case, as a funny, stirring, romantic, highly entertaining and unforgettable film.
7. On the Waterfront (1954)
Elia Kazan's classic tale of guilt and redemption emanates with the grit, texture and desperation of it's setting. Brando's performance as Terry Maloy is one of the greatest in cinema, a gripping incarnation of the film's tormented conscience. Karl Malden and Lee J. Cobb give equally potent performances as two sides of an emotional and spiritual conflict fighting for his soul. The penetrating realism and passionate suffering depicted is remarkable. It is very similar to the tormented laments of Scorceses with it's preocupation with the guilt and sin of those trapped by the social conditions of class and status and the compromise of one's soul demanded as the price of survival. Similarities also abound in the admirably realistic portrayal of the urban underworld and the criminality that exists within the fabric of everyday life. It has a look and feel that radiates with the primal yearning of the oppressed and those trapped by themselves and the depravity they succumb to. The film's wounded heart and soul culminates in Brando's unforgetable "Contender" speech that is one of the most iconic moments in film.
6. Singing in the Rain (1952)
Gene Kelly is at his best in the classic, comedically affectionate, satirical tribute to Hollywood and the glorious studios and stars. As with other enduring classics, such as Casablanca, it's easy to take Singing in the Rain for granted and forget just how brilliant it is. Featuring some of the most memorable dance sequences captured on film and the extravagance of Kelly's threatical set pieces, it is also one of the most superbly crafted motion pictures in history. The "Gotta Dance" sequence is signature of Kelly and reminiscent of the extravagant Ballet in An American in Paris in it's Operatic overtures and romantic treatment of a classic story (the sequence itself refrences the character arc of Kelly's Don Lockwood). In addition to it's memorable songs and comedy Singing in the Rain is a visual delight, a flourishing almagamation of special effects and technique. Note for instance one of the very best examples of montage transition in all of cinema during the "Would You" number, as a multitude of graduating scenarios and progressive cuts are smoothly blended, masterfully elevated to poetry. The screenplay is marvelous, the acting, dancing and songs unforgetable and the technical aspects of the camera work, editing and special effects all coelesce into one of the most perfect cinematic confections ever made.
5. Vertigo (1958)
Though Psycho is his most iconic and best known, Vertigo is widely considered the finest example of Hitchcock's genius. Less obvious then some of his other masterpieces such as North by Northwest, is has gained traction lately as the greatest from a director who braught us countless classics. When detective John 'Scottie' Ferguson (Jimmy Stewart), disturbed by a recent traumatic experience, is hired by an old friend to find out the truth behind his wife's strange behavior, his diligent surveillance and observation of the troubled woman (Kim Novak) leads him into a spiral of troubling obsession. As he grapples with his own inner demons, John pursues catharsis through his fixation with the haunted woman. Vertigo is not about international espionage, innocent men wrongly accused, or cross country chases. Hitchcock utilizes his mastery of mood and his remarkable talent for subversion to craft his most potent and brilliant film. As he did throughout his career and most apparently in Pyscho, Hitchcock is able to conjure an extraordinary amount of suspense, fear and anticipation with the genius of his camera and the patience of his technique, weaving psychological tapestry of Freudian complexity. The deep, anxious undertones that run beneath the surface are expressed in the brilliant musical scoring by the great film composer Bernard Herrmann. Hitchcock is known for the psychological depths with which his characters are steeped (The Birds, Marnie, Notorious, Shadow of a Doubt...) With Vertigo he composes a symphony of subversion, a masterpiece of subconscious presence.
4. Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972)
Kluas Kinski stars as the eponymous Conquistador who's self enobling obsession to lead a band of soldiers and natives to the fabled Mayan city of Gold borders precariously on the indistinguishable edge of madness. One of Werner Herzog's very best, the unconventional director shot on location in the inhospitable jungles of South America, arduously transporting film equipment and actors through the mud, rain and swamplands. Like many of his protagonists, Herzog himself is a man of singular vision in the pursuit of his goal and, as with many of his films, the story behind it's production is as fascinating as the movie itself, as his artistic ferver is reflected by the stories he tells and the harrowing journies he embarks upon to do so. The density and frightening omipresence of the jungle envelops the actors and the reality of the setting overtakes the film. The passionate performances and realistic spectacle of men pushed to the limits are fascinating to behold. Kluas Kinski again demonstrates fervant dedication and commitment to his role as the demented Don Lope de Aguirre. Comparisons between this film and the story Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now can be made as the adventurers' single-minded pursuit down a river becomes a descent into madness and self destruction.
3. The Bicycle Thief (1948)
The seminal classic of Neo Realism Vittoro De sica's masterpiece has become one of the darlings of film connoisseurs, a requisite favorite of the cinema intelligentsia. However you don't have to be a movie snob to appreciate the story of an impoverashed man's search for a stolen bicycle he desperately needs to keep his job and support his family. The naturalistic appeal of Neo Realism (the use of non actors and real locations) ads to the film's texture and character. The man's quest through the streets and lives of Rome is a profoundly effective and touching journey and, given the authenticity of the style, nearly documentarian in nature. Joining him in his pursuit of the thief is his young son Bruno. The father son dynamic is one of the films greatest charms and fundamental attributes as the search becomes a struggle not simply to survive poverty but to maintain basic human dignity. The Bicycle Thief is one of the cornerstones of cinema one of the most enduring and humane tales ever committed to film. (Also check out De sica's Umberto D.)
2. 8 1/2 (1963)
The consumate movie about movies by master director Federrico Fellini. Often regarded as his best work (though some would argue La Dolce Vita) 8 1/2 is the first full fledged expression and purest incarnation of the carnival eccentricity, whimsy, indulgence, and autobiography that came to define the great Director's style. Guido Anselmi (Fellini's favorite on screen persona, Marcello Mastroianni) is a succesfull Director facing both a midlife crisis and the stifling expectations of a public awaiting his next big production. Typical of Fellini, 8 1/2 follows the discheveled director through the encounters of nightlife, parties and his own whimsical imaginings in his pursuit of emotional and intellectual clarity, absolution and purpose. A profound culmination of Fellini's directorial pursuits and social, intellectual commentary, 8 1/2 is a magnificent condensation of his artistic essence and, like Juliet of the Spirits, is more of a justification of his own flaws then a confession. The opening sequences and the last revelry are two of the most magnificent and brilliant sequences ever shot and express the film's poetic conceptualism. 8 1/2 was one of his first to completely embrace Fellini's unique style of films, later dubbed Felliniesque, and probably the best representation of the man himself. It is one of the fundemental landmarks of cinema.
1. 2001 A Space Odyssey (1968)
A peerless sci-fi classic and example of the power of imagery, Stanley Kubrik's uber cerebral Neitsiche think piece and meditation on human enlightenment is one of the cornerstones of cinema. With only 45 minutes of actual dialogue throughout it's vacuous 2 1/2 hours, it is a testimate to the power of images as a conveyance of ideas, communicating complex theories on the progression of civilization and the nature of enlightenment with the measured span of imagery, putative leaps and some seriously trippy visuals. The film's slow deliberate pace might bely the expectations some have towards Sci-fi, and the tedious procedral nature of the story and screenplay might seem plodding and dull to some. Eschewing the action element of other classics of the genre such as Star Wars or Blade Runner, 2001is an immaculately crafted, deliberately paced work of intellectual filmmaking that argues the validity of film as a platform of profound literary power. Kubrick's use of symbolism and the orchestration of images and sound as a language of thought is simply brilliant. There are lots of great films, but there are some, like Last Year at Marienbad, 8 1/2, or Apocalypse Now, that achieve something beyond the ordinary and remind us of the possibility of film as an art and a medium of ideas. 2001 perhaps more so than any other is an achievement of this caliber. The computer Hal is one of the best villains in film and every evil computer from thenceforth from I-Robot's VIKI to Skynet, owes a debt to this movie. Even though the film was drastically different than most Sci-fi it has had a definite influence on the genre and films such as Andrei Tarkovsky's similar masterpiece Solaris, and the recent Moon. Everyone should see it at least once. There's nothing else quite like it.
I considered making a follow-up list, more of a supplement than an update or replacement, to include any great films recently made available, or those still available that I simply couldn't fit on this list, but I'm not sure if it's worth it. At this point, I think it would be, A: unnecessary, and B: impossible, just because of how good the service has become over the past few months. Another list would be fun but it would have to include something closer to 100 films, even without duplicating any of the ones on this list.
Not only has Netflix increased the amount of films available for streaming, including some great contemporary films like Being John Malkovich and Black Hawk Down, but have apparently, given the sudden influx of foreign classics, reached an agreement with Criterion Collection (who have also introduced online viewing on their own site), which, over the past few weeks has made available a steadily increasing number of the great films of world cinema. Au Revoir Les Enfants, Amarcord, Jules and Jim, Seven Samurai, and Rashomon, are just a few of the greats that have been added in the last month or so, with more of the CC library on the way.
There where always enough films for me to confidently say 'here are 50 you must see' but considering how exclusive the list was supposed to be, I never felt like I was overwhelmed with candidates either - a situation that has changed. The problem now is that with so many seminal classics available it would be too easy to populate the list with a predictable filmography of cinematic canon. I may still do this because even though L'Avventura and The Seventh Seal are indispensable works, many people still haven't heard of them, let alone seen them, so a list to this effect could still be a good opportunity, but we'll see. I'd like to do something a bit more creative and accessible. I want to touch on more than just the highest, distant, echelons of cinema as I could easily do, with little more than the Criterion Collection itself.
I don't want to leave anything out just because it's too obvious or obscure, but as much as I want the list to be accurate and informative, I also want it to be interesting, a balance harder to achieve then you might think. It would be easy enough to preface the list with a PSA to the effect of "Put anything from the Criterion Collection in your que" for the sake of expediency, instead of actually putting them on the list. That's a lazy short change though.
Whatever I end up doing, the amount of good stuff available for streaming means that no longer will this type of list merely represent the best options available for instant enjoyment, but that the list in it's entirety can measure up to any 'great movies' list regardless of the criteria.