March is already proving to be an embarrassment of riches when it comes to being a Netflix subscriber. All in all, the library turnover this month has been remarkably favorable to the discerning subscriber. Comparatively little left the service, and much of what must-sees did vacate will doubtless return before too long has passed. And now, by contrast, a huge influx of wonderful new titles have joined them right at the beating heart of your living room. All things being equal, I’ll happily call this a win for moviegoers, both casual and hardcore alike.
Apollo 13 (1995) – I don’t know what it was, but I hated this movie as a kid: capital letter Hated it. Looking back, I really can’t say why that was. It is by all accounts a sweeping film: possessing an exceptional cast, bold cinematography, incredible special effects. Ably helmed by Ron Howard, it presents an accessible, well-realized version of the Apollo 13 story, hitting all the right beats that you’d expect from a big Hollywood drama. Like The Shawshank Redemption (1994) or Forrest Gump (1994), it doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, nor does it have to. Simply being the best version of the kind of story that it’s trying to tell was enough. Don’t believe me? Go watch First Man (2018) again and try to figure out exactly why that movie – despite its similar story and quality – nevertheless fails to live up to a movie from two decades prior.
A Clockwork Orange (1971) – At this point, A Clockwork Orange is probably better remembered for a few iconic shots and costumes than it is for anything of substance that came out of it, which is a profoundly disappointing legacy for one of the very best 21st century films, from one of the very best 21st century filmmakers, that helped to define decades of generational unrest and mistrust that dominated the Baby Boomer era of American adolescence. Perhaps Kubrick’s best film of his career – and coming from the man who gave us 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), The Shining (1980) and Full Metal Jacket (1987), that’s saying something – it deeply expressed, in its own, operatic way, the generational angst between ‘the greatest generation’ and their no-good brood. And, yes, it’s really just that satisfying to watch Alex perform a little bit of that hyper-violence, repugnant though it ultimately proves to be.
Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2000) – For a while there, it looked like Wuxia – the Chinese genre of operatic martial acts action – was going to break out in a big way in the West. With the groundwork laid by the impeccable Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, movies like Hero (2002), House of Flying Daggers (2006), Curse of the Golden Flower (2006) and Fearless (2006) all made a sizeable splash on the America market, to say nothing of long-running and popular series like Kung Fu Panda and other Western-produced features. And while some of those in many ways exceeded Ang Lee’s efforts here, most did not, by and large because of how carefully attentive to narrative and compositional details that same director was in this film. It is a thrilling, fist-pumping good tie that was likely the gateway drug to the wider world of foreign cinema for many American audience members. And given just how good this movie actually is, they could hardly have hoped for a better introduction.
A Separation (2011) – As the history of 21st century cinema is being written, it is clear that the best of the best are by and large dominated by international titles. Sure, you have your There Will Be Bloods (2007) and your Lord of the Rings (2001-2003), but those account for only a portion of must-see movies from these last two centuries (and a particularly small portion at that). No, it has been the international markets that have guided the way… movies like In the Mood for Love (2000), Blue Is the Warmest Color (2013) and, as is the case here, A Separation (2011), a revolutionary movie about marital strife in the modern Middle East that cuts to the very heart of the Human experience at play in its dramatic centerpiece.
Winter’s Bone (2010) – Coming from one of the very best year in Oscar Best Picture lineups, Winter’s Bone is the kind of dark, intimate drama that people tend to overlook. Never mind that it’s a Bonafede gem of a movie from one of our greatest living and most underappreciated directors. Never mind that this was superstar Jennifer Lawrence’s big break (and, by most measures, her still-best film role). Never mind that it’s darker and more chilling that almost any horror movie that you’re likely to see this year. It’s just one tidy little movie, elegantly told, fraught with dramatic tension and heft.