Last week I tweeted that Netflix was streaming a movie called Last Night, which is one of my favorite movies. My friends Tammy and Todd happened to be in need of a Netflix suggestion at that precise moment, and the ended up really liking the movie.
I spent six years of my life working in or managing video rental stores and movie theaters. I have lots of experience helping people choose movies. There are now lots and lots of movies and TV shows streaming on Netflix, and lots of them are crap, or everyone’s seen them already.
That home run I hit with Tammy and Todd, combined with the video store in your browser that Netflix has become, awakened the dormant video store clerk in me.
So, I just spent a couple of hours looking through the “shelves” and pulling some movies I think you might like and grouped them for you. Hopefully there is something here you haven’t seen that you will end up really liking.
Remember, it’s Netflix. If you watch ten minutes of something and don’t like it, move on!
Enjoy your show!
Quite Nearly a Sure Thing
This first group are all great movies that you may not have seen and I’m pretty sure you’ll like as much as I do.
Brother from Another Planet – John Sayles wrote and directed this charming and funny low-budget sci-fi gem starring Joe Morton. Makes a great double-feature with the DVD of Battle Beyond the Stars (which I guess you need to borrow from me, because Netflix doesn’t have it).
Day of the Dolphin – Thoughtful sci-fi directed by Mike Nichols, written by Buck Henry and starring George C. Scott. Warning: you may cry. Makes a great double feature with the laser disc of Project X.
The Man in the White Suit – A young Alec Guiness stars in this sci-fi, capitalist comedy from the great Ealing Studios at the height of their comedy prowess. Makes a great double-feature with the DVD of Idiocracy.
Diabolique – OK, this one’s not sci-fi. Instead, it’s a chilling tale of revenge…but whose? No, really. It’s chilling! Makes a great double-feature with the DVD of Psycho.
Then you could get drunk and watch the recent remakes of each…and cry.
Small Investment of Time
Only need an hour or less of entertainment? Here are some stand alone episodes from anthology shows (Twilight Zone, Masters of Horror, Faerie Tale Theater) and individual episodes of TV shows that are entertaining and watchable on their own, even if you haven’t seen the rest of the series.
Twilight Zone: “Invaders” (Season 2 Episode 15) – This is my favorite Twilight Zone ever, and it has a twist that would make M. Night Shama Lama Ding Dong cry (and will make you want to watch the episode again).
Masters of Horror “Homecoming” – Lefty-political-zombie-horror-comedy from the director of Gremilns and Innerspace? Yes please.
Doctor Who “Blink” (Season 3 Episode 11) – The best of the new Who episodes in my (and many others’) opinion. Even if you’ve never watched Doctor Who, this one works on its own. All you need to know is that the Doctor travels in time. Oh, and it’s scary.
The X-Files “Humbug” (Season 2 Episode 20) – Again, my favorite episode of this series. All you need to know is that Mulder and Scully are FBI agents who investigate unusual, often paranormal cases. Beautifully written, acted and directed.
Reaper “Pilot” (Season 1 Episode 1) – This fun pilot for a diabolical FX series was directed by Kevin Smith and includes a reference to Evil Dead(s).
Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre “Pinocchio” (Episode 11) – Pee Wee Herman as Pinocchio and Carl Reiner as Geppetto. That’s really all that needs to be said here.
Due in no small part to the success of Star Wars, the 1980s were a wasteland of cheesy cheap space opera knock-offs. But among the crap (all of which I watched and usually enjoyed), were some interesting sci-fi movies.
Android – Featuring many of the costumes and props used in other New World Pictures sci-fi films from the 80s, it’s hard to get past the ultra low-budget production values of Android. But it is well written and acted. Plus, Klaus Kinski!
The Philadelphia Experiment – This is a good low-budget time travel movie. What ever happened to Michael Paré? He was in like three movies in 1984! You gotta love 1940s sailors trapped in the 1980s.
Killer Klowns from Outer Space – A horror movie with alien clowns? Yes it is. Surprisingly smart and produced and directed by the Chiodo Brothers, who are legendary stop-motion and visual effects artists.
Solid classics of sci-fi cinema. They are good and important. Watch ’em!
The Fly (1958) – The original teleportation accident movie and one of the best. It doesn’t make much sense scientifically, but it’s got a guy with a fly head and a giant computer with clicking, blinking lights! Plus, starting with this film, all Fly movies take place in Canada.
Angry Red Planet – Decades before Pitch Black, Angry Red Planet had the balls to tell audiences “Hey, different planets have different atmospheres, so from the moment the spaceship door opens, we’re filming everything with an obnoxious colored filter.” Plus, it has a giant spider-bat!
The Andromeda Strain – Scientific police procedural written by Michael Crichton and directed by Robert Wise. This is a well-paced film, but that pace is kinda slow by today’s standards…until the end. Countdown clock!
Aelita, Queen of Mars – This is a fantastic silent Soviet sci-fi movie with great effects that was way ahead of its time. The rocket sequence is really beautiful.
Fun and Entertaining
Weird and funny, these movies are worth checking out if you need a laugh (or are slightly drunk).
Demolition Man – Sandra Bullock and Wesley Snipes (who is chewing up the scenery like mad!). It’s funny and things blow up!
Bedazzled – I’m a fan of Harold Ramis’ remake of this Stanley Donen gem, but the chemistry between Dudley Moore and Peter Cook is simply amazing and Cook’s passive-aggressive Devil is so charismatic!
The Thing With Two Heads – What better medium for a cautionary tale of racial bigotry than a blacksploitation monster movie? None better. None. Plus this movie has an amazing car chase in the middle and a two-headed Rick Baker gorilla (played by Baker!).
The Island of Dr. Moreau – Of the half-dozen adaptations of Wells’ classic novel, this one has the coolest creatures and the most Barbara Carrera.
War of the Gargantuas – One of the best non-Godzilla Japanese giant monster movies. It really scared me as a kid.
Oceans – A gorgeous French documentary about, well, the Ocean. Some of the imagery in this film is so beautiful and unusual that it looks fake. Like Avatar fake. But real.
Walking With Dinosaurs – This is still a brilliant idea: make a nature documentary about dinosaurs using filmed background plates and CG dinosaurs, but otherwise treat it just like any other high-profile BBC animal documentary. Still holds up and led to a host of sequels (the best of which is Prehistoric Park).
Cosmos: The Complete Collection – Still the standard by which all other popular science series are measured. Sagan is as talented a presenter as he is a writer.
This American Life – If you are not familiar with the outstanding radio series that this show is based on, go listen to some of them first. If you are, you’ll be suprised at how well Ira and the gang have done at translating the show to a visual medium. It’s definitely different from the NPR show, but equally fascinating.
Circus – A documentary about life in the circus. Watch the first one and you’ll be hooked.
Great TV (in handy bite-sized bits!)
Ready to devour hours and hours of narrative? Here you go.
Futurama – I’ll admit that this show is not for everyone and can be uneven at times, but when it’s at it’s best, it’s really funny. It’s laced with science fiction (and science) references that may slip past most viewers, but if you get them, they are amazing! This is a default show in our house and was one of the first things to be put on our AppleTV.
Better Off Ted – Great writing, superb comic acting and a very polished look make this single-camera comedy one of my favorites of the past few years. It almost makes you want to work for a giant evil company.
Twin Peaks – If you have never seen Twin Peaks, or haven’t seen it for years, now’s your chance to absorb the whole thing. And I do recommend watching the whole thing. I am in the minority, but I really liked the second season, especially because that’s when David Lynch shows up as FBI Regional Bureau Chief Gordon Cole, who is one of my favorite characters on the show. Brew up some strong coffee and get yourself some doughnuts and cherry pie and start watching!
Black Adder – Hey, Hugh Laurie does a pretty good English accent! If you are into English history, wordplay or underhanded political shenanigans, this is the show for you. For me, this is the only place I really like Rowan Atkinson (aside from The Tall Guy in which he essentially plays himself).
Stephen King’s Golden Years – Before you start this one, you should know that it doesn’t really have an ending. It got cancelled before it really wrapped up, but what did get made was really interesting. Plus it has Francis Sternhagen, Felicity Huffman and Stephen Root.
The Kingdom – If Twin Peaks is too weird for you, you need to keep moving past The Kingdom. If Twin Peaks was not weird enough for you, here you go. This is Lars Von Trier’s hugely successful horror TV show about a haunted hospital. Very weird. Very Danish. Do not watch the depressingly bad American Stephen King Presents Kingdom Hospital. If you are in the mood for a Stephen King mini series, watch The Stand or Golden Years.
Potpourri (for $100)
Some other great stuff that’s streaming right now that didn’t fit neatly into the categories above.