Streaming video has turned our living rooms into an endless video store, with a vast array of titles to choose from.
Netflix has around 10,000 titles, taking in everything from rom-coms to action movies, TV shows and documentaries; and that can be a problem. It's called the paradox of choice; faced with an endless array of options, people freeze up. Before you know it, you've spent an hour scrolling through the possible choices, and you've run out of time to watch a movie.
Fear not; we've done all the hard work for you, picking out the cream of the streaming crop. Read on…
Shaun of the Dead
Simon Pegg’s Shaun is a shop assistant who’d rather be playing video games, boozing, or listening to electro with his best mate Ed (Nick Frost) than showing his girlfriend that he’s serious marriage material. When a bust-up convinces him it’s time to grow up, it just happens to coincide with a zombie outbreak – meaning he must traverse a ghoul-infested London to rescue his girl and attempt to survive the night.
Stuffed with smart references, killer sight gags (Wright’s quick-fire editing is a highlight) and scorching one-liners, Shaun of the Dead is a great deal more than your average horror comedy. There’s real heart as well as buckets of guts on display, and it’s easy to see why Simon Pegg and director Edgar Wright have become Hollywood hot properties since its release.
One of the very best recent movies to come out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – Black Panther is far more than just a place-setting prologue for Avengers: Infinity War. A mega-budget blockbuster with an almost entirely black cast, co-written and directed by an African-American, there’s an unmistakeable thread of “politics” running through it that’s much more than woke window dressing – it’s a key part of the plot and the characters’ motivations.
That said, Ryan Coogler’s movie is also a crowd-pleasing superhero flick in which Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa, newly-crowned king of super-advanced African nation Wakanda, has to find his feet in the face of a ruthless would-be usurper (played with raging verve by Michael B. Jordan). Not to be missed.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Rian Johnson’s take on Star Wars has come in for plenty of criticism from the self-appointed, neck-bearded bastions of the series' purity, but anyone who isn’t kept up at night worrying about the “proper” way made-up characters in a made-up space-fantasy world should behave or look will almost certainly have a lot of fun watching it – and we sense that, as the mid-point for Disney’s new trilogy, its true value may not be recognised until after the third movie has been released, watched and digested.
You know the drill: it’s Star Wars. So expect lightsaber duels, spaceship dogfights, a few laughs, space nazis, “the lure of the Dark Side” and all the rest – plus a slightly tonally weird trip to a casino planet. It’s not perfect, but it’s perfectly enjoyable.
The Big Lebowski
The Coen brothers’ cult comedy hit – a louche, lackadaisical and outwardly lightweight followup to the multiple award-winning thriller Fargo – is packed to the gills with clever call-backs, references to other films and other oh-so-clever touches for astute viewers to pick out.
But it’s also an absolute riot, as Jeff Bridges’ middle-aged stoner The Dude sets out to right a wrong (in a case of mistaken identity, two hoodlums “soiled” his beloved rug) and ends up sucked headlong into a kidnapping case involving German nihilists, pornographers, a wealthy paraplegic, performance artists, a sullen teenage car thief, the police chief of Malibu, possibly hallucinatory cowboys… and bowling.
With an outstanding script and supporting cast including Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi, John Turturro and John Goodman, The Big Lebowski is a rare cinematic gift – one that keeps on giving with subsequent viewings.
Say ‘sci-fi’ and most people think of robots, spaceships and flesh-eating aliens. The Lobster is a sci-fi movie about dogs, flamingos and a plump, bespectacled Colin Farrell living in a lakeside hotel.
Farrell plays David, a single man sent to a home for other single people, where he must find a partner within 45 days or be turned into an animal of his choice and set free into the world. It’s wonderfully eccentric, hilariously funny and strangely touching, with a contemporary world that, in its own weird way, is far more discomforting than 100 of the same old dystopian wastelands.
A striking piece of indie sci-fi, and an example of how a relatively low budget doesn’t have to mean substandard CGI, District 9 tells a story of alien refugees stuck on Earth,and their mistreatment at the hands of unsympathetic human officials. It’s one that draws clear parallels with the apartheid South Africa where director Neill Blomkamp grew up.
When a company field agent assigned to evict aliens from illegal settlements contracts a DNA-twisting virus, he is forced to seek refuge himself – and can only do so inside an alien ghetto called District 9.
Alex Garland’s directorial debut is a brilliantly realised slice of sci-fi about what makes us human. Oscar Isaac plays Nathan, the charismatic billionaire CEO of a tech company who wrote the code for his search engine as a child.
When one of his employees, super-nerd Caleb, wins a competition to spend a week at his boss’s high-security bunker home, Nathan uses it as an opportunity to test his new invention: Eva, the physical incarnation of Nathan’s latest AI software. But can she pass the Turing Test even when the examiner knows full well she’s a robot?
While Caleb is something of an off-the-shelf geek, Nathan is a cross between Mark Zuckerberg and a Bond villain. One minute he’s sweating out a hangover and dancing with his live-in maid like a laddish Steve Jobs, the next he’s intimidating Caleb from the darkness of his concrete-walled, warren-like lair.
The interactions between Eva and Caleb could easily have become tedious interviews but Garland infuses them with flirtatious humanity. Much like Joaquin Phoenix’s character in Her, Caleb finds a lot to like in his artificial companion, with some incredible make-up and special effects making her equally appealing and believable to the audience. And that’s what makes the denouement of Ex Machina all the more shocking.
A Netflix Original, this animated series features Arrested Development’s Will Arnett as the titular Horseman, a, er, “horse man” who enjoyed success in a beloved 1990s sitcom but now wallows in boozy, druggy self-loathing as a washed-up former star. But don't worry if we've made it sound too grim - the show's serious:silly ratio is nicely balanced.
Set in a skewed version of Hollywood in which humans live alongside anthropomorphic animals, BoJack Horseman features a strong cast (Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul plays BoJack’s best friend Todd while Alison Brie plays love interest Diane) and razor sharp writing, and with three seasons and a couple of one-off specials available, it's perfect fodder for a weekend binge-watch blowout.
This series (now four seasons plus a France-based spin-off season strong) shadows world-renowned chefs as they take viewers on a personal journey through their culinary evolution - providing an intimate, informative glimpse into what gets their creative juices flowing.
Lovingly shot in razor-sharp 4K quality (for those with the necessary Netflix subscription), Chef's Table is so well-made that you can almost smell the aromas seeping out of your screen and tickling your nostrils. From glistening, perfectly-cooked cuts of meat to mouth-watering veggie dishes, this is food pornography of the highest order. Just try not to drool all over your TV.
Marvel Studios’ latest foray into episodic television is far and away its best - a gritty, street-level crime drama that has more in common with The Wire than Captain America. Boardwalk Empire’s Charlie Cox stars as the costumed crusader Daredevil – blinded in an accident but granted heightened senses and perception.
With an extended running time to play with, and none of the constraints of broadcast TV, Daredevil is free to explore the ramifications and moral complexities of super-powered vigilantism – with Daredevil's alter ego Matt Murdock working as an attorney by day, there are plenty of moral grey areas to explore. It’s also free to flesh out its supporting characters, including a stellar Vincent D’Onofrio as hulking crime boss Wilson Fisk.