It’s been too long since our last round of Netflix Instant Watching picks, so let’s rectify that now, with the help of the as-usual invaluable instantwatcher.com, alongside a bonus non-Netflix essential to follow (which, hit the jump for the rest of those). Be sure to let us know what you’ve dug up and been digging via the comments, and don’t miss our two previous / discussions for past recommendations from everyone.
A quick aside: with the preview version of the next round of Xbox 360 dashboard updates currently making the press rounds, it’s clear that the console’s Netflix functionality is about to become even more essential: I’m really looking forward to seeing its ‘party’ feature propagating outward and hopefully hosting and attending pre-scheduled mini-watching-parties, and having the ability to browse new releases from the 360 itself is far more useful than I expected (even if I’m not positive yet that it’s tailoring suggestions specifically to me). But enough about that:
The first and most enthusiastic pick is Jared and Brandon Blake’s debut feature Visioneers, filmed well before comedian Zach Galifanakis would break into mainstream consciousness with his appearance in The Hangover. While it’s not quite the typecast-reversing performance that Adam Sandler pulled off in P.T. Anderson’s Punch Drunk Love, it’s damned close.
The movie’s a dystopian narrative darkly satirizing all aspects of a not-entirely-unimaginable near-future: a metered, rationed oppressive culture of grey, windowless workplace bureaucracy, mass-market consumerism in bed with all levels of government, and marriages defined by network TV self-help twaddle.
The problem? Widespread outbreaks of explosions: people so overwhelmingly institutionally understimulated and underwhelmed that they literally explode, and we follow Galifanakis as George Washington Winsterhammerman as he himself tries to keep from following suit.
It’s a quieter and more subtle movie than I ever would have expected, but punctuated perfectly with the profane (see also, in this respect: the comics of Chris Ware), and more a love story than you’d imagine, with all actors involved (including Judy Greer, who you remember as Arrested Development’s Kitty) pulling off incredible performances within their individual, soul-sapped restraint (Galifanakis spends 70 percent of the movie not saying a word and simply quietly attempting to keep all emotions in strict check).
And it’s got Polyphonic Spree’s Tim DeLaughter working the score, and it’s as hilarious as it is touching, and it’s one of the best films I’ll see this year.
Next is Timecrimes, another feature-length debut, this time from Nacho Vigalondo (name: no joke!) who crafts an incredibly dense multiple-Möbius-twisted time-travel tale that’s most surprising for its clarity, even after diving 2-4 levels into itself. The less said about this one the better to avoid giving away too much of the plot, but it’s another movie that keeps itself considered and quiet — much less the action/thriller than its name would lead you to believe, and a must-watch for fans of the similar (and also Instant Watch-able) Primer.
Finally, a more personal recommendation: I first came across Sherman’s March when I was twelve and channel-surfing on a very bored Sunday and was instantly hooked. There’s no way I could have understood the emotional subtlety or depth at the time, but I was drawn in with the unshakable feeling that documentarian director Ross McElwee was teaching me something really important about what adult life was going to be like for me twenty years on, and, having just watched it again twenty years later, I was right.
The film begins with McElwee going through two major life events: a break-up with his girlfriend, and receiving a grant for the documentary he was hoping to create — a journey re-tracing the infamously brutal scorched-earth route taken by Union Major General Sherman at the tail end of the Civil War.
Which he does, but which quickly and forever sidesteps itself into an altogether different focus: revisiting the South — where McElwee was raised — sees him seeking and falling into and out of relationships with high school crushes and newly-met women along the way. So, instead of a historical documentary, it’s one of the best relationship/human drama documentaries I’ve still ever seen to date and, even at some three hours long, is completely riveting.
If it captures your fancy as much as it did me, follow it up with his sequel, Time Indefinite, which picks up some several years on with McElwee’s life radically (re-)structured (compared to the free floating/searching epic of the original), and had me crying into my little cup of vodka basically from start to finish, and Bright Leaves, a less blatantly personal (and, to my mind, therefore less successful) look at the South’s history with tobacco, a cash-crop famously farmed by McElwee’s ancestors.
The best of the rest: Delicatessen, the first film by partners Jeunet and Caro, who would go on to more famously direct The City of Lost Children, has recently popped up on the service, and is as lovely a convoluted fantastical tale as ever I’ve seen. Both seasons of the Showtime TV version of ubiquitous NPR hit This American Life also now live on Netflix, and the second season of Graham Linehan’s previously-recommended comedy The IT Crowd has also made its service debut.
The promised bonus: Over at Hulu, which has unfortunately recently broken third-party attempts to get the service running on consoles (via media viewers like Play On), a BritCom classic has just appeared, and is essential viewing: Spaced — the ensemble TV debut from the people that would go on to give you Shaun of the Dead: director Edgar Wright and leads Simon Pegg and Jessica Hynes (who only had a cameo in Shaun, itself a shout-out in-joke for fans of Spaced). It’s rife with video game and classic horror homages, and is more or less the best 20-something-slacker-ish story set to TV or film. Do not miss this.