Wednesday, January 7, 2015

January 2015: The New & the Notable

Well, the end of December certainly was brutal. I don't know about you, but I'm still feeling a sharp ringing behind the ears from so many sacked titles. And if this month's upcoming losses are to be believed, the carnage is far from over. (Don't you dare take away my Coupling and Fawlty Towers! Or BBC faves like Dr. Who and Luther and Top Gear and...)

So, has Netflix decided to atone for these accumulating sins by rolling out an irresistible roster of January movies and series? Not so much. I mean, yes, there are good—and even great—titles that showed up this month. But fully a third of those were returning after a brief absence, so we've not only encountered most of them in the past year, but in all probability they'll pull another vanishing act in 3-6 months.


Not that I'll ever argue with returning titles The Apartment, Chinatown, Marathon Man, or Sunset Boulevard. Those should form a permanent foundation beneath the service—an impregnable Wall of Classics (if you'll forgive the mixed architecture)—especially paired with newcomers The French ConnectionFantasia, Marty, the original Robocop, Moonstruck, Mystic River, and Swingers. But considering the damage done to Netflix's pre-1982 catalog in the past couple of months, it's going to take a heck of a lot more to restore my confidence in the service's ability to maintain a respectable mix of both classics and newer titles.

In the meantime, here's the breakdown of what's queue-worthy:

INCOMING CLASSICS
Along with the above mentioned movies—all of which you likely know by reputation or experience—there are a number of other older titles worth a look. John Wayne fans should be pleased by the addition of John Ford's The Quiet Man and Otto Preminger's In Harm's Way, which join the handful of other Wayne films already streaming (for a total of eight). Ford earned a directing Oscar for The Quiet Man, which was nominated for a number of other awards, while WWII actioner In Harm's Way co-stars The Duke with Kirk Douglas and Paula Prentiss, and...that's about all I know. Also set in WWII is Stanley Donen's comedy-drama, Kiss Them For Me, featuring the unlikely duo of Cary Grant and Jayne Mansfield. With Donen and Grant behind it, it's bound to be at least entertaining.

I've already mentioned Delbert Mann's Marty, but since it enjoys a lower profile than many in our Wall of Classics, I'll note that it was by far the most celebrated, earning Oscars for Best Picture, Director, Screenplay (by Paddy Chayefsky), and Actor (Ernest Borgnine). It may feel a bit dated today (as do so many 1950s movies), but if you've ever wondered what was once considered a Hollywood prestige pic, then give this a gander. Looking (and sounding) even more dated, if charmingly so, is George Pal's 1953 adaptation of The War of the Worlds, one of the better-produced sci-fi flicks of the era. Its effects represented the gold standard in Hollywood until Forbidden Planet a few years later.

RETURNING CLASSICS
The Apartment
The French Connection aside, the best of this month's classic movies are its returnees, including the aforementioned Billy Wilder masterpieces, Sunset Boulevard and The Apartment, Jacques Demy's charming 1967 musical, The Young Girls of Rochefort, and another John Ford drama, this one starring Henry Fonda, Young Mr. Lincoln. This was one of three memorable films Ford directed in 1939, along with Stagecoach and Drums Along the Mohawk, with The Grapes of Wrath to follow in 1940. (And people think Woody Allen is productive!) Other returning classics include 1965's The Agony and the Ecstasy and The Odd Couple (1968).

TOP PICKS (MODERN ERA)
There are definitely some good new choices here, even if they still don't make up for last month's gutting. Movies like Cast Away, Mystic River, and Get Shorty speak for themselves, so I'll single out a few that haven't received as much press.
Blue Car (2002) - a well-acted indie drama, starring Agnes Bruckner and David Strathairn, that rises above its melodramatic trappings on the strength of its performances
Cast Away (2000)
Deep Impact (1998) - I still need to see this one, but I hear it's better than, um, Armageddon
Get Shorty (1995)
Election (1999) - second feature from director Alexander Payne (following Citizen Ruth), who went on to direct Sideways, The Descendants, and Nebraska. I've heard a lot about this one over the years and am looking forward to finally seeing it.
Identity (2003) - another returnee, this gleefully twisted horror thriller makes the most of a great cast (including John Cusack, Ray Liotta, and Amanda Peet), and will keep you guessing up until its highly improbable ending

John Cusack, Amanda Peet in Identity
Insomnia (2002) - Christopher Nolan's follow-up to Memento is a tense policier set in a small Alaskan town, and deserves to be known for more than being a remake of the Norwegian original. Al Pacino gives one of his better late-career performances, while Robin Williams and the rest of the cast (Hilary Swank, Martin Donovan) more than hold their own.
The Kite Runner (2007)
The Machinist (2004) - returning to Neflix to give you another chance to see just how emaciated Christian Bale will get for his art
Mystic River (2003)
The Ref (1994)
Robocop (1987) - along with the returning Robocop 2, this joins Robocop 3 to make a complete Robocop set. Collect 'em all!
Swingers (1996)

NEW RELEASES
I haven't seen any of these, but word is they're worth checking out if you're craving something new that doesn't have explosions.
Better Living Through Chemistry (2014)
Copenhagen (2014)
Fort Bliss (2014)
Get Low (2009)

George Takei
DOCUMENTARIES
Bowling for Columbine (2002)
Brasslands (2013)
Dance for Me (2012)
To Be Takei (2014)
The Yes Men (2003)
(I do realize I haven't spotlighted enough docs in this space. It's something I hope to do better at this year.)

ROM-COMS
Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)
Fried Green Tomatoes (1991)
Friends: The Complete Series (1994-2004)
Moonstruck (1987)
Mystic Pizza (1988)
Notting Hill (1999) - a returnee
Sliding Doors (1998) - arrives January 9

FAMILY/KIDS
101 Dalmatians (1996) - another returnee
D.A.R.Y.L. (1985) - '80s cheese
Fantasia (1940) - it's a kids film and a classic, after all. There's also a remake sequel, Fantasia 2000, which may be worth a look once you've exhausted the original
Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985) - joins all the other Pee-wee-enalia already streaming. It's a Pee-wee world, we just run around and yell in it.
The Road to El Dorado (2000)
Spy Kids (2001) - with the addition of this first Spy Kids flick, all four are now streaming. Your mileage may vary, but these definitely go down well with the kiddies (boys and girls alike).

GUILTY PLEASURES
Batman & Robin (1997) - I'll go ahead and say it: I thought George Clooney made a good Batman. If only the rest of the movie wasn't so ridiculous.
Bruce Almighty (2003)
The Butcher's Wife (1991)
Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974) - Peter Cushing and David Prowse co-star in Hammer's final Frankenstein film, only two years before they'd become Star Wars' Grand Moff Tarkin and Darth Vader
Wayne's World 2 (1993)

THE USUAL SUSPECTS
And here are the returning titles that disappear and reappear with annoying regularity (annoying because, why not just keep them online, already?). Most of these are worth a watch, although I'd be surprised if everyone in the world hasn't seen them at least once (though I never could bring myself to watch Footloose). A word of warning: I tried watching Mr. Mom for the first time a couple months ago, and I have to say that whatever charms it once had are now obscured by a stale sheen of '80s-ness that clings like a bottle of spilled Calvin on a Member's Only jacket. Watch only if you're a rabid Teri Garr or Martin Mull fan.
Dirty Dancing (1987)
Footloose (1984)
Ghost (1990)
Mean Girls (2004)
Mr. Mom (1983)
Patriot Games (1992) - just in time for the debut of this year's Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, and joins the already streaming Clear and Present Danger (1994)
RoboCop 2 (1990)
The Running Man (1987)

Kevin Bacon sez: Dance like it's 1984!

Full January List

Batman & Robin (1997)
Better Living Through Chemistry (2014)
Blink (1994)
Blue Car (2002)
Bowling for Columbine (2002)
Brasslands (2013)
Bright Lights, Big City (1988)
Bruce Almighty (2003)
The Butcher's Wife (1991)
Cast Away (2000)
Copenhagen (2014)
Dallas: Season 3 (2012)
Dance for Me (2012)
D.A.R.Y.L. (1985)
Deep Impact (1998)
The Evening Star (1996)
Fantasia (1940)
Fantasia 2000 (2000)
Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974)
The French Connection (1971)
Get Low (2009)
Get Shorty (1995)
Election (1999)
Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)
Fort Bliss (2014)
Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)
Fried Green Tomatoes (1991)
Friends: Complete Series (1994-2004)
In Harm's Way (1965)
Insomnia (2002)
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)
Kiss Them For Me (1957)
The Kite Runner (2007)
Marty (1955)
Moonstruck (1987)
Mystic Pizza (1988)
Mystic River (2003)
Only the Lonely (1991)
Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985)
The Quiet Man (1952)
The Ref (1994)
Regarding Henry (1991)
The Road to El Dorado (2000)
Robocop (1987)
Shining Through (1992)
Snatch (2000)
Spy Kids (2001)
Swingers (1996)
To Be Takei (2014)
The War of the Worlds (1953)
Wayne's World 2 (1993)
The Whole Nine Yards (2000)
The Yes Men (2003)

Returned

101 Dalmatians (1996)
The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965)
The Amityville Horror (1979)
The Apartment (1960)
Big Fish (2003)
Cheech & Chong's Next Movie (1980)
Chinatown (1974) - Review
Dirty Dancing (1987)
Footloose (1984)
Ghost (1990)
Identity (2003)
I.Q. (1994)
The Machinist (2004)
Marathon Man (1976) - Review
Mean Girls (2004)
The Mod Squad (1999)
Mr. Mom (1983)
Notting Hill (1999)
The Odd Couple (1968)
Patriot Games (1992)
RoboCop 2 (1990)
The Running Man (1987)
Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Valkyrie (2008)
The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967)
Young Mr. Lincoln (1939)

January 9

Sliding Doors (1998)
The Winning Season (2009)

3 comments:

Kirby said...

"Get Low" is great, a charming hidden gem.

And technically "Fantasia 2000" was a sequel to "Fantasia", not a remake.

David Speranza said...

Good to know, thanks. Correction made. I remember being curious about Get Low when it came out, but didn't get around to seeing it. Perhaps now...

SewTypical said...

Recommend the 2 documentaries about Ai Weiwei - a very gutsy artist in china.