In a manner similar to what happens with the television schedules, the streaming services suddenly go quiet in the summer. For true cinema fans this is pretty good news because the art house stuff comes along as well as some of the better catalogue titles that might have appeared elsewhere before.
It will probably be September before any subscription winning blockbusters are added again but the smart money is on one of the big ones adding The Avengers and (fingers crossed) the last season of Breaking Bad.
By the time you read this, the new Netflix exclusive series Orange is the New Black from the creator of Weeds, will be available on Netflix. Early word is that it’s actually the best Netflix exclusive title so far, which is good news after the horrendous Hemlock Grove. I will weigh in with an opinion next month.
Holy Motors (2012)
Starring: Denis Lavant, Edith Scobe and Kylie Minogue. Directed by: Leos Carax. Available on Netflix
Last year’s art-house hit didn’t really cross over the way films of its ilk occasionally do. It is perhaps to personal and obtuse to really ever go mainstream, being the product of a bereaved soul. Leos Carax’s film is about a great many things; the nature of identity, the way your job might dictate how your life is and the nature of stories and films especially. Denis Lavant is a revelation as Oscar, a man travelling around modern-day Paris in a limo fulfilling several different roles at key points in several other people’s lives. When the film stops for a musical number it is perhaps the most beautiful but always tinged with an undercurrent of tragedy. You may not like Holy Motors but I can guarantee you will never forget it.
Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)
Starring: Quevenzhane Wallis and Dwight Henry. Directed by: Benh Zeitlin. Available on Lovefilm.
Another art-house film from last year, but one that managed to cross over in a way due to awards love and showings at local multiplexes. I am concerned however that director Benh Zeitlin might never make another film as well-regarded. Beasts of the Southern Wild is so unique and so specific in terms of the way it skirts genres and a lot of this has to do with the fact that it was made for nothing and looks remarkably pricey considering the locations. The story is a magical realist fable and coming of age saga with a remarkable performance from Quevenzhane Wallis and also Dwight Henry as her father and these two should go have full and varied careers. There has literally been nothing like this done in live action before and any fan of cinema should see it.
Rust and Bone (2012)
Starring: Marion Cottilard, Matthias Schoenaerts and Armand Verdure. Directed by: Jacques Audiard. Available on Lovefilm from July 25th.
Yes, another, yes art house. Rust and Bone is one of the best love stories in recent years without being all cloying and overly sugary. The key is with the strong characterisations and performances. Marion Cotillard has never been better as a once strong and confident woman laid low by tragedy. Matthias Schoenaerts is fast cornering the market in brooding, muscular anti-heroes between this and Bullhead and when these two come together, sparks don’t exactly fly but there is a well-paced and considered understanding that grows into love between them which feels realer than most. The film is so strong and so well mounted that come the end you feel like you have been through some kind of emotional turmoil yourself.
Killer Joe (2012)
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch and Juno Temple. Directed by: William Friedkin. Available on Lovefilm.
It could be the fact that certain scenes are too much for people or it could just be that people were not quite sure what to make of it, but sadly William Friedkin and Tracy Letts second collaboration Killer Joe is still relatively under seen and undervalued by the public at large. This film is perhaps the key one in Matthew McConaughey’s recent comeback. He is terrifying as a police detective who moonlights as a professional killer and is hired by a white trash family who have bitten off more than they can chew. The way the story unfolds is masterful and the final twenty minutes are a tense and shocking affair that contains some of the best acting from 2012. This will be regarded as a cult classic in a few years and it probably starts here with Killer Joe being available on streaming.
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Tom Hardy and Ellen Page. Directed by: Christopher Nolan. Available on Lovefilm.
Inception is many things and it’s usually the mark of a good film when the backlash against its success remains relatively quiet 3 years after its release, that backlash would of course wait for Nolan’s 3rd Batman film. Christopher Nolan’s film is a brain bending action/heist thriller set in a dream world full of potential for amazing set pieces but it’s also a film about loss and coming to terms with grief and moving on. You could sort of see the whole film as a metaphor for the dangers of social networking in a way, with those that are taken from us remain on Facebook or Twitter and their memories linger never taking their natural course and fading away. Or you could just enjoy it as an intelligent thrill ride with a teeth rattling final act and accept I am a pretentious git.
Say Anything (1989)
Starring: John Cusack, Ione Skye and John Mahoney. Directed by: Cameron Crowe. Available on Netflix.
Cameron Crowe’s first film as a director was so different from the other rom-com fluff coming out of the Hollywood/John Hughes factory at the time, so of course it went straight to video in the UK. The film has since gained something of a following but still needs more love. John Cusack was a revelation as Lloyd Dobler, a teen with seemingly nothing going for him who decides to remain optimistic despite his limitations and sets out to win the heart of Diane Cort played by Ione Skye, the rich high school dream girl. The characters spout believable teen dialogue which seems predicated more on their actual lives and tastes rather than just hitting certain beats for your teenage romance. This would be a key thing for Crowe’s future work as well as some of Cusack’s future choices. I used to base all of my first date moves on Dobler taking a girl to a party in this film, so if you’re under 18 watch this and get some clues, you can’t fail.
Run Lola Run (1999)
Starring: Franka Potente and Moritz Bleibtreu. Directed by: Tom Tykwer. Available on Netflix.
Watching Run Lola Run on a big screen with a superior sound system is the filmic equivalent of being on drugs. Tom Tykwer arrived with a bang and a true statement of intent with this fast paced meditation on life and death as Franka Potente races across town three different times to save her armed robber boyfriend from a terrible fate with three different outcomes depending on what choices she makes. If you haven’t seen this, it’s a transcendent experience full of energy that really needs to be seen to be believed. Also feels like it’s been massively ripped off over the years but with little actual recognition of where it started.
Kiss of the Dragon (2001)
Starring: Jet Li, Bridget Fonda and Tcheky Karyo. Directed by: Chris Nahon. Available on Netflix.
Despite being from that period where Hollywood was still trying to figure out what to do with Asian action stars, the best of Jet Li’s early western output was Kiss of the Dragon, but even so it’s a very European flavoured concoction coming from the Luc Besson production line. The story is as simple as it gets with Li playing a framed Chinese agent who has to go on the run from a super corrupt cop and befriends Bridget Fonda’s prostitute on the way. After the first ten minutes or so the film literally does not stop with brilliantly choreographed mayhem and is the perfect Friday or Saturday night film.
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Diane Lane and John Hawkes. Directed by: Brian Robbins. Available on Netflix.
This little seen film from 2002 was dismissed because it starred Keanu Reeves and was seemingly a cliché ridden take on the Bad News Bears. Despite on the surface seeming to be a seen it/done it kind of affair, it’s actually anything but. Reeves excels when he plays low lives and he does it here playing a compulsive gambler who ends up coaching a ghetto based little league squad in Chicago. After a while he learns about responsibility and giving something back and finds something of a redemption. I can guarantee you though, this doesn’t end the way you expect it to. There is an element of reality that lands smack bang in the final act of the film that is completely unexpected and really moving. For that alone it is worth a look.
Dumb and Dumber (1994)
Starring: Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels and Lauren Holly. Directed by: Peter and Bobby Farrelly. Available on Lovefilm.
If you haven’t seen this I don’t quite know what to say to you. From all of Jim Carrey’s early funnier work before he got all serious, this was the best and Jeff Daniels is equally good. There is literally barely a minute that goes by in Dumb and Dumber without some kind of huge laugh or giggle fit inducing pratfall. If you examine this closely then it becomes obvious that the Farrelly brother’s template for comedy became the way to go for the next ten years or so until Judd Apatow came along and changed it again. A sequel is now finally happening twenty years later.
The Majestic (2001)
Starring: Jim Carrey, Laurie Holden and Martin Landau. Directed by: Frank Darabont. Available on Lovefilm.
Aka the Frank Darabont film everyone has forgotten about. Jim Carrey stars as a black listed Hollywood screenwriter during the communist witch hunts of the 50s. He attempts suicide and washes up in a small town where he is mistaken for a war hero and helps run the local two screen cinema. First thing’s first; this is far too long, but it does have a lot of charm and a lot going for it. It’s a gentle Capra esq fable that gets by thanks to strong work from Carrey and Martin Landau and it’s refreshing to see something this earnest and uncynical. Then Darabont went back to Stephen King and made The Mist, perhaps the most cynical film produced in the last decade.
Dexter: Seasons 1-6 (2005-2011)
Starring: Michael C.Hall, Jennifer Carpenter and David Zayas. Directed by: Various. Available on Lovefilm.
With the final season just firing up stateside, now is a good time to refresh on the first six years of Miami’s favourite serial killer and anti-hero Dexter Morgan. Dexter, much like the Star Trek films, seems to suffer from each odd-numbered season being not up to snuff, although still remains oddly compelling. The first season suffers from the supporting characters not really feeling like they add anything but then they get more involved with the central character of Dexter and things get better in season two. I think it peaks in season 4 with the introduction of John Lithgow’s terrifying trinity killer and probably never recovers although season 6 comes close. Despite some dips in quality, Dexter is one of the essential shows of the last ten years.
The Walking Dead; Season 1 (2010)
Starring; Andrew Lincoln, Jon Bernthal and Sarah Wayne-Callis. Directed by: Various. Available on Lovefilm.
I remember when this show held so much promise. Frank Darabont was in charge and his pilot episode is possibly one of the best pilots ever produced. Then things got slow and then sped up again at the end of the season and then things stopped dead in season two as the behind the scenes turmoil took over. The show recovered for season three and hopefully they can maintain that level of quality. Despite a dodgy final episode, the first season is definitely worth a look. It’s grim and bloody fun.
Twin Peaks: Season 1 and 2 (1990-91)
Starring: Kyle Maclachlan, Michael Ontkean and Piper Laurie. Directed by: David Lynch and others. Available on Lovefilm.
David Lynch and Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks changed television forever in the early 90s and introduced the idea of arc based shows rather than more episodic stories. Season one remains essential viewing and is somewhat timeless with its brilliant characters and odd musical choices. Season two goes off the rails a bit before recovering for a devastating finale, the effects of which is still being felt some twenty odd years later. If you haven’t seen this then now there is no excuse.
Luther: Series 1 and 2 (2010-2011)
Starring: Idris Elba, Ruth Wilson and Paul McGann. Directed by: Various. Available on Netflix.
As it’s now mid-way through a third series on BBC 1, it’s a good time to catch up with probably the best cop show since The Wire. Idris Elba’s John Luther is a compelling character, often facing unrelenting evil in the menacing freaks he encounters but always aiming to do the right thing despite what controversy or trouble it might bring to his life. It’s also the best written show on the BBC (aside from Sherlock) with every episode earning its cliff-hanger status and some brilliantly tense confrontation scenes where you can’t see a way out for Luther but somehow they pull it off. For fans of Elba this is essential, and for anyone who thinks the likes of A Touch of Frost or Morse were boring, pedestrian dramas, this is the antidote to that.