By Christopher Renton
The ever-widening gap between what the film industry can market as worthwhile entertainment and what it produces that could be even charitably termed worthwhile makes award shows feel more necessary and legitimate than they actually are. The appearance of the unintentionally campy Black Swan on the list of Best Picture nominations should more than satisfy as a case in point. However, for all their unfortunate omissions, the Oscars do, in their own way, manage to concentrate our collective attention on work that strives for more than just box office success. They also offer film writers who watch far too much each year a convenient framing device and a bit of relief from the stifling desire to be as comprehensive as possible.
In seemingly unrelated news, I paid eleven dollars to see a mediocre movie last week. I paid about the same price 24 hours ago for my monthly Netflix subscription. It takes depressingly little fiscal acumen to determine which was the wiser investment. Unfortunately, the breadth of options that Netflix allows can sometimes lead us unwittingly down roads better left untraveled. I offer my recent evening spent streaming Sphere and Starship Troopers as a cautionary tale. To bring together the dubious wisdom of the Oscars and the possibilities Netflix affords our ravenous film desires, I offer the following list of Academy-vetted Netflix recommendations. For the Netflix uninitiated, movies that are as yet unavailable on DVD or streaming must be “Saved.”
The following three films received a meager one nomination each, but should be seen as soon as possible. I mention them first because they deserve far more attention than they received.
Watch it for Tilda Swinton’s transcendent performance. Watch it for the lush cinematography. Watch it for every reason you go to see films. It received but one nomination for Costume Design and deserved at least five or six more. It was my pick for best film of last year. Available now streaming and on DVD.
The script that the master of humanist comedy Jacques Tati wrote but never had a chance to film, brought to animated fruition, finally, by the talented Triplets of Belleville director, Sylvain Chomet. If you’re not touched by the script, you’re a misanthrope. If you’re not in awe of the animation, you’re missing eyes. It’s still playing in a couple select theatres, but can be Saved on Netflix until its May release.
Nominated for Best Original Screenplay, this Mike Leigh offering is not as generous to middle-aged singles as any middle-aged single would like it to be, but the characterizations and performances are phenomenal. Leigh continues his staunch refusal to offer viewers anything but fully realized personalities–as sometimes tragic and always nuanced as the people watching them. Unfortunately, you’ll have to Save this one, too, but it should be available in a few months and can still be seen at AMC Loews Piper’s Alley.
There were ten Best Picture nominees for the second year in a row. All but 127 Hours (what was all the fuss about?) should be seen by film lovers. I’d even recommend Black Swan, if for nothing other than Matthew Libatique’s cinematography and the cruel casting of Winona Ryder (I still contend that the film was, quite possibly, this year’s best comedy.) The following five should be given priority:
It won Best Picture not because it will change your life or marks any artistic highpoint in the history of cinema, but because there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. The performances, direction, cinematography and writing are all commendable and since we’re always looking for something to watch that is well done, watch it. Available next month, so Save it for now.
Pure entertainment from start to finish. Watch it. Enjoy it. If you don’t like it, take a minute to get over yourself and watch it again. Available on DVD but not streaming. Queue it up.
It was never going to win Best Picture because it took far too many risks for the establishment. Those risks, it turns out, were worth taking as the film succeeds on almost every level. Acting nominees Jennifer Lawrence and John Hawkes give us characters harder and tougher than any you’ll find trolling around the Action/Adventure page. Available on DVD only.
As technically proficient as King’s Speech, but more in love with itself. Definitely worth watching. Available on DVD only.
The Coens are keeping the Western genre alive one film at a time. This effort feels more relaxed than No Country, but much like Michael Jordan in his prime they make being good look so damn easy. Available in June.
Best Documentary Nominees
Exit Through the Gift Shop, Gasland, Inside Job, Restrepo, and Wasteland. Queue them up. All of them. Why not? Are you afraid to learn a thing or two?