Streaming video has turned our living rooms into an endless video store with a truly bewildering array of options to peruse.
Netflix alone has thousands of 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, reader: we've done all the hard work for you, picking out the cream of the streaming crop on the US edition of Netflix. Read on…
“If it bleeds, it leads,” is the mantra of Los Angeles’ increasingly ghoulish TV networks - and Jake Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom is ready and willing to dish up the gore. Video camera in hand, he roams the streets of the city in the dead of night, chasing ambulances and combing crime scenes for footage that’ll give middle-class families a frisson of fear as they watch the morning news.
Dan Gilroy’s film is a pitch-black satire of the American Dream – with Lou’s dead-eyed sociopathy and his willingness to do what others won’t his ticket to success. As he rattles off motivational business-speak with absolute sincerity, it’s infinitely more chilling than any of the footage he captures.
Writer-director Greta Gerwig’s semi-autobiographical Lady Bird was nominated for no fewer than five Oscars. It didn’t win any (bagging a couple of Golden Globes instead), but the fault probably lies with the Academy rather than the movie, which is a fantastic indie comedy full of heart, drama and believable characters.
Saoirse Ronan shines in the title role, an artsy 17-year old looking to break away from what she sees as her stifling town and stifling mother. If you think you’ve seen this story played out on screen a hundred times before, don’t worry – Lady Bird manages to defy expectations to dig much deeper than your average quirky coming-of-age comedy.
I Think You Should Leave (S1-2)
Sketch shows are a bit like luncheon meat, tank tops and hostess trolleys: unwanted, outmoded relics from the 1970s. But I Think You Should Leave is proof positive that there’s life in the old format yet – it just needed a refreshing jolt of surrealism forced down its gullet. In fact, we’d go so far as to say this is the funniest thing on Netflix by a country mile.
Former Saturday Night Live star Tim Robinson co-writes and appears (along with a parade of familiar guest faces) in a collection of crude, inventive and ultimately hilarious skits that rarely end up where you expect them to. The humour usually comes from a character “committing to the bit” by taking a social miscue or personality trait to extremes; it sounds simple enough, but Robinson and co have done nothing less than reinvent the comedy skit.
Cobra Kai (S1-3)
A series that started life on YouTube as a giggle-worthy spin-off from The Karate Kid movies, Cobra Kai has now established itself as a fan-pleasing comedy-action-drama that arguably surpasses the films that inspired it. Back in the 80s, how many viewers could have imagined Karate Kid villain Johnny Lawrence being the nuanced, relatable protagonist of his own TV show over three decades later? And yet here we are, with several characters from the movies now firmly ensconced in this new life – and being given far more depth as a result.
Featuring some of the most uncomfortably tense TV scenes since Breaking Bad (also on this list), Ozark follows Jason Bateman and Laura Linney’s squabbling Chicago couple, forced to run a money-laundering scheme for a merciless Mexican drug cartel. When Bateman’s put-upon financial advisor conjures up a risky plan to “wash” the dirty cash in rural Missouri, he and his family up sticks for a new life in one of the USA’s most deprived locations. All of a sudden, murderous narco-barons become just one of many problems for the family.
Filmed in muted, washed-out tones with bags of brooding and squalor on show, Ozark doesn’t always make for a pretty watch. But if you like your drama series perpetually balanced on a knife edge, it’ll be right up your street.
Attack on Titan (S1)
Set in a world where naked flesh-eating giants roam the land while the remnants of humanity cower behind their city walls, Attack on Titan is a compelling dark fantasy tale based on the manga comics of the same name. When a devastating attack on his city leaves young Eren Yeager with his life in tatters, he enlists in the military and vows to mete out revenge on the shambling titan hordes. In a common anime trope, there’s a coming-of-age story running parallel to this epic tale of heroism and sacrifice, with Eren and his companions learning about themselves as they uncover the mystery of the titan menace.
Hot Rod – in which Andy Samberg plays a would-be stuntman attempting to win the respect of his tough stepfather – received mixed reviews and little box office success upon its 2007 release, but has since garnered something of a cult following. Having recently stumbled upon it ourselves, we can attest to its rough diamond appeal.
Originally envisioned as a Will Ferrell vehicle, Hot Rod morphed into a platform for the sort of surreal humour that Samberg and his Lonely Island cohorts Jorma Taccone (who co-stars) and Akiva Schaffer (who directs) have since become famous for. Describing it as “ahead of its time” might be overdoing things a little, but a decade-plus on this style of comedy is practically mainstream. So do yourself a favour and give Hot Rod a run.
There Will Be Blood
Paul Thomas Anderson's masterful American epic is stark and relentless; the first we see of protagonist Daniel Plainview is a 20-minute sequence in which Daniel Day-Lewis scrabbles wordlessly in the dirt for silver. From there, Plainview moves to oil drilling; he's consumed by a relentless pursuit for the black gold, dispensing homespun charm to townsfolk as he tries to gull them out of their oil rights, using his adopted son as a prop to spin the image that he’s a family man.
The only one who sees him for what he really is is Paul Dano’s Eli Sunday. That's because he's equally corrupt: an evangelist who sees Plainview as a threat to the supremacy of his church. And so the stage is set for a power struggle between religion and capitalism, played out in operatic fashion against the oil wells.
The first time Daniel Craig donned 007’s tuxedo was in this movie – and it’s still the pick of the “James Blond” entries in the series. A relatively new recruit to MI6’s elite spy squad, Bond is tasked with beating terrorist financier Le Chiffre in a high-stakes poker match at Montenegro’s exclusive Casino Royale – but there’s more riding on this card game than a few million pounds of the Treasury’s money. Slick, assured and still eye-catching 15 years after its release, this film is a reminder that a Bond movie doesn’t have to be a campy, tongue-in-cheek affair to be considered iconic.
Martin Scorsese’s first Best Director Oscar came courtesy of this slick and stylish 2006 thriller (technically a remake of cult Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs), in which crooked cops and undercover moles vie for dominance in the Boston criminal underworld. With a weighty ensemble cast including Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon and Jack Nicholson and a suspenseful plot full of twists and turns, The Departed is a gripping watch – even if Scorsese has directed more interesting (and Oscar-worthy) films before and since.