Allow me to harvest for you.
On Netflix now:
The Tribe – Not only an unusually excellent movie available to stream, but the best movie I’ve seen in years. The Tribe follows a new student’s jarring experiences upon entering an Ukranian boarding school for hearing-impaired students that doubles as a criminal enterprise. There’s no translating Ukranian sign language, so don’t look for subtitles. But you won’t need them; it’s that good. Director Myroslav Slaboshpytskyi’s skill with impossibly long and choreographed one-shots should have Hollywood ringing his phone. He doesn’t need them.
The Naked Prey – You can’t go wrong with a transplanted western (Uh, Star Wars) because there’s no genre more plot driven, from Bud Boetticher’s swift and lean Randolph Scott B-movies all the way to McCabe & Mrs. Miller. The Naked Prey flips the setting to Africa, and also won an Oscar for best screenplay. If you can swallow the fact that the lead would have been dead in five minutes in real life, the movie has no wrong moves.
Blade II – Guillermo del Toro‘s garbage is better than anyone’s garbage. His art direction alone makes Blade II watchable (although: enough with the laterally-hinged-jaw monsters, please? I’m looking at you, Stranger Things.) Drink when you see a totally cool gadget.
We Are the Best – not a recent addition, so don’t wait, it could be gone soon, if not already. Swedish movies, of late, have done a notably swell job on revisiting 80s childhoods (Let the Right One In), and We Are the Best is no exception, following four young teenage girls forming a postpunk band in 1982. Director Lukas Moodyson (Together, also good) gets almost everything right, making a feel-good-movie for people who hate feel-good -movies.
Netflix commonly overflows with great documentaries because there’s simply no chance a theater chain will ever show most docs. Here’s the recent best:
My Friend Rockefeller – Walter Kirn’s book (Blood Will Out) on imposter/killer Clark Rockefeller/Christian Gerhartsreiter is much better, but if you’re illiterate or don’t have time for books, this documentary will do.
Welcome to Leith – The Internet’s crowdsourcing of social acceptance, for better and for worse, has pushed outcasts into the open. The for worse part includes white supremacists who, in the past, may have kept a low profile. No more. Their new confidence certainly emboldens them to appear before cameras held by non-believers. Here, crackpot white supremacist Craig Cobb begins to buy up land in Leith, North Dakota, imagining an Aryan homeland. Bigger bigots have failed before him, but now it’s all on camera.
Orion: The Man Who Would be King –I had trouble getting this one out of my head. Singer Jimmy Ellis was legitimately talented as a singer, with one problem – he sounded exactly like Elvis Presley. Following Presely’s death, Ellis started wearing a mask, and things got better before they got stranger. My fave doc of the year.
Finders Keepers –As crazy a true story as one could imagine, like Harry Crews crossed with Flannery O’Connor. An amputated limb discovered in a metal smoker bought at a storage container auction leads to a possession-law scuffle that rivets North Carolina. Neither party involved is innocent or without sympathy, and their motives are as complex as they are sad. Both think they’re in the right, to this day, possibly.
I Am Thor –As rock docs go, I Am Thor is a sweet and decent example of the ‘comeback’ genre. Following a resurgence of Scandinavian interest in Thor, one of the oddest proto-metal performers in the late seventies/early eighties, former Mr. Canada weightlifter Jon Mikl Thor takes to touring after a 25 year layoff. Not without oddity or intrigue, I Am Thor falls apart at the end, and although it’s not as tragic as Last Days Here or jarring as Searching for Sugar Man, the bananas moments pay off.
The Winding Stream – The Carter Family nearly invented country and western music themselves. Sure, the impact of their early work is well covered here, but this doc delves into their family dynamics and motivations as career musicians, or not, and follows their post “family” careers, and the careers of their daughters, which were equally interesting. Living members of the Cash-Carter families open up for the camera in unprecedented fashion, and the footage is rare. John Prine delivers a live version of “Bear Creek Blues,” and other artists offer new renditions of CF classics, but Roseanne Cash slays with her rendition of this documentary’s titular song.
On Amazon Prime right now:
Sex & Broadcasting – Slight but illuminating doc on the commercial free, listener supported survival of WFMU, the best radio station in the United States. A solid lowdown on the station’s history, complete with footage, up to their current struggle to remain on the air. Plus, there’s that weird buzz of seeing what DJs look like.
The Limey – One of the Steven Soderbergh’s ‘experiment’ movies, The Limey places a delicious Terrence Stamp in sleazy 1999 Los Angeles as an anger-unhinged British criminal looking his daughter’s murderer. So what’s the experiment? For flashbacks to Stamp’s character as a young man, Soderbergh uses scenes from Poor Cow, director Ken Loach’s first film, made in 1967 and featuring a 29-year old Terrence Stamp. It works, especially in a film where Soderbergh gets more a than a tad creative with present day time shifts in his visual storytelling. Bonus: Peter Fonda as a scumbag record producer.
Cockfighter – A long lost 1974 slice of American film making that doesn’t much happen much anymore, what with coming-of-age all the rage (yes, still). Warren Oates and Harry Dean Stanton, under the fluid direction of Monte Hellman, train roosters for southern gambling bloodsport. Unfortunately, Amazon’s print is so low quality that it’s unwatchable, at least for now, on this platform.
Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains –Whatever you can’t take from the falseness of some of the way proto-new wave is portrayed, you get something returned from the kick of watching Diane Lane in one of her first starring roles. Check out this excellent lowdown on the film from Night Flight, one of the best things on 1980s TV in an otherwise general wasteland of a decade, and a show which is currently resurrecting itself as one of the best portals on the web for hindsight on underground music and film of the 1980s.
Embrace of the Serpent – Madness in the Amazon, on Amazon. Shot in black and white in the Columbian Amazon and Oscar nominated, Embrace of the Serpent follows two expeditions, separated by 30 years, in search of a mysterious plant. Not for the non-adventurous viewer. For them there’s Blade II.
Cropsey – Possibly the creepiest documentary made. Filmmakers investigating an urban legend on Staten Island find far more frightening circumstances concerning child killer Andre Rand. They include Geraldo Rivera’s offensive and nightmarish footage of going ‘undercover’ into a state home for the mentally disabled where Rand may have worked. Don’t watch this alone. Don’t watch it. When it scares you, you’ll be mad at me.