This list is updated monthly to reflect recent availability and to showcase films currently streaming on Netflix, whether talking classics or modern gems.
Netflix offers roughly a gazillion different movies available through its streaming platform — well, approximately a gazillion. However, while the landmark service might become surprisingly accurate with its suggestions once you’ve been using it for a while, it’s still often tough to find something worth watching amid the trove of terrible choices.That being the case, we’ve taken the time to wade through the ridiculous amount of content in order to bring you a list of some of the best films currently available on Netflix Instant. Planning your weekend has never been easier.
New for May
The Western, that genre of loners seeking fortune and justice in untamed lands, holds a mythic place in the American psyche, but this mythology often obscures the violence and depravity that were part of those lawless frontiers. Clint Eastwood’s 1991 film Unforgiven, in which the director also stars, peels back the facade, showing all the ugliness present in the Old West. Eastwood stars as William Munny, a former bandit trying to live a peaceful life as a farmer in Kansas. When a group of prostitutes in Big Whiskey, Wyoming, put out a bounty on a pair of cowboys who assaulted one of them, William and his friend Ned (Morgan Freeman) join a young gunfighter on a mission to collect. Standing between them and the money is Little Bill (Gene Hackman), a tyrannical sheriff willing to do anything to maintain order. Unforgiven is in large part a character study, and examination of men who do violence, and what that does to a man’s soul.
Punch-Drunk Love stands as a curio in the works of director Paul Thomas Anderson. Whereas his earlier works tended to be sprawling ensemble pieces — see Boogie Nights and Magnolia — Punch-Drunk Love is smaller, more intimate. Like Anderson’s subsequent masterpiece, There Will Be Blood, it focuses on one man and his neuroses, in this case Barry Egan (Adam Sandler). A lonely business-owner whose family often mocks him, Barry is prone to fits of rage. When his sister introduces him to her friend Lena (Emily Watson), however, he finds he has a shot at intimacy, as long as his problems don’t bubble over. Sandler is in rare form here, playing his usual naivete and rage for sympathy, rather than laughs. Punch-Drunk Love bucks the usual conventions and rhythms of romantic-comedies; it’s a strange, subtle film, that even those who typically dislike Sandler should see.
To Catch a Thief
Filmed in 1955 on the breathtaking French Riviera and directed by the master of suspense himself, Alfred Hitchcock, To Catch a Thief still stands the test of time more than 60 years later. Grace Kelly plays the beautiful American heiress Frances Stevens on holiday in Europe, while Cary Grant plays John Robie, a former cat burglar who has since retired to a life of leisure. After a string of robberies point to Robie as the potential culprit, he must clear his name by finding the criminal. Who better to catch a thief than a former thief? Who better to steal the girl than Cary Grant?
Upstream Color is the second film from auteur Shane Carruth, the mind behind Primer. Aside from directing and producing the piece, he also wrote it, starred in it, composed the music, and designed the sets. Such being the case, Upstream Color is a singular vision. The film follows Kris (Amy Seimetz) who falls prey to a strange hypnotic experiment that leaves her with memory loss, and her life entirely upturned. Months later, she meets Jeff (Carruth), with whom she discovers she shares an inexplicable, near-psychic link — one that extends beyond the two of them. Confused and overwhelmed, Kris and Jeff embark on a journey for answers. Upstream Color adheres to Carruth’s penchant for mind-bending, cerebral sci-fi that begs to be watched over and over again.
The Little Rascals
The “He-Man Womun Haters Club” is in crisis; the neighborhood bullies have demolished their club house, and stolen their prized go-kart just before the town’s big race. To make matters worse, their chosen go-kart pilot, Alfalfa, has fallen in love with his young sweetheart, Darla. The other members of the club — including Spanky, Buckwheat, Froggy, Stymie, Porky, and Petey the dog — must then reclaim their go-kart and convince their friend to see the error of his ways, or otherwise face the demise of their club. Little Rascals is directed by Penelope Spheeris, and stars the likes of Bug Hall, Travis Tedford, Brittany Ashton Holmes, and presidential hopeful Donald Trump, who (surprise, surprise) plays the father of the the unlikable new kid in town.
If Mia Wasikowska ever stops starring in period dramas, we’ll probably cry. Her portrayal of the titular character, as well as Cary Joji Fukunaga’s nuanced direction, takes a work that could easily make a very melodramatic film and turn it into a tantalizingly slow-paced, magnetic piece. Drama comes in the small moments, subtle facial expressions, and charged dialogue. Michael Fassbender’s Rochester is also stormy without falling into the trap of being absurdly so, like so many anti-hero period actors have done before him — we’re looking at you, Matthew Macfadyen. When the film does finally come to its climax, the determined inner strength that Wasikowska lends to Jane carries her, and the film, to its denouement.
E.T. the Extra Terrestrial
After blowing away audiences with Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Raiders of the Lost Ark, cinematic juggernaut Steven Spielberg kept the ball rolling in with the box office smash, E.T. the Extraterrestrial. The film remains just as iconic today as it was upon its release in ’82, and tells the heartfelt tale of a 10-year-old boy (Henry Thomas) and the bond he quickly forms with an alien that’s mistakenly left on Earth. From the iconic moonlit bicycle silhouette to the cosmic communicative power of a modified Speak & Spell, even if you’ve seen the film countless times, there’s always something to jog your memory. Watching E.T. traverse the strange, albeit familiar, landscape of the ’80s is a treat in and of itself. It really is a shame that they replaced the ride at Universal Studios with one modeled after The Mummy…
Team America: World Police
When a terrorist organization threatens to bring annihilation to the West, a paramilitary anti-terrorism task force known as Team America takes the lead to ensure international stability. As anyone who’s previously seen the 2004 film could tell you, Team America: World Police obviously comes straight from the creators of South Park. That said, no one is safe from the heavy-handed, satirical lampooning of Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Parodies include everyone from Queen Elizabeth II to Danny Glover, and, most notably, Kim Jong-il. The film remains one of the most quotable films of the early aughts, and one that truly showcases just how bad shoddy puppeteering can be.
Like all of Quentin Tarantino’s films, Inglourious Basterds is derivative in the extreme. Ever heard of the 1978 Italian Dirty Dozen remake, Inglorious Bastards? For that matter, ever watch The Dirty Dozen? That said, the film is entertaining and constantly takes violence to the extreme in typical Tarantino fashion, often for comedic purposes. The film benefits from an all-star cast and Robert Richardson’s stylized cinematography, and focuses on two fictional plots to assassinate Nazi Germany’s political leader during the onset of World War II. Even if you’re not typically a Tarantino fan, the hijinx-ridden war film has its moments and, honestly, do you really want to pass up an opportunity to watch Michael Fassbender and Daniel Brühl square off in an underground pub? I think not.