Archive for category: Netflix Canada Picks

Netflix Canada picks—2017 festival season tee-up edition

19 Aug
August 19, 2017

Some of the hottest directors in world cinema will be screening new work at festivals next month. Here are some defining films by key directors of the season that you can watch right now on Netflix.

Whatever you think of the Atlantic Film Festival renaming itself after the part of the shark that you have to clear when you jump it, you have to like Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name as the pick for 2017’s closing gala—the Italian/American/Brazilian/French co-pro in English, Italian, and French is very much on message with the addition of “International” to the festival name. In North America, Guadagnino perhaps first came to public attention with 2009’s I Am Love, and then convinced Tilda Swinton to return for the wonderful A Bigger Splash by promising her she wouldn’t have to speak.

The newly rebranded festival in Halifax has also booked Mary Shelley, the new film from Haifaa al-Mansour, director of Wadjda, the first feature film in history to be shot entirely in Saudi Arabia. As fascinating as the production story may be, the film itself is a triumph of narrative skill, brilliantly balancing realism and idealism with a young protagonist you won’t soon forget.

Fans of Sean Baker’s extraordinary Tangerine were elated to hear this week’s announcement that his follow-up The Florida Project will be screening at TIFF in Toronto next month. Famous in part for being shot on three iPhones, Tangerine is in fact a beautifully shot and directed film: “An overt, outrageous comedy, it follows two transgender prostitutes on a day when one of them has a singing gig and the other is on a mission of vengeance to find her boyfriend and crush him for his various infidelities.

Ruben Östlund’s The Square was a surprise winner at Cannes earlier this year, and now it will be making its North American debut at TIFF. His gloriously biting Force Majeure is a little slice of cinematic near-perfection—let’s hope the ill-conceived American remake never actually gets made.

Finally, Hirokazu Kore-eda has a curveball lined up for TIFF audiences this year in the form of crime drama The Third Murder, but 2015’s Our Little Sister is right in Kore-eda’s sweet spot—a carefully drawn Japanese domestic drama, the sort of quietly gripping, insightful film for which you rarely if ever see a North American equivalent.


Ten of the very best films of 2016 are already on Netflix Canada

31 Dec
December 31, 2016

Why wait for all of the films on year-end best-of lists and award nomination slates to find their way to streaming services? Here are ten of the very best-reviewed films of the year (as measured by Metacritic) that are available right now to watch online.

The Witch

Directed by: Robert Eggers (directorial debut)
Notable performances: Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie the goat
Honours & Awards: Gotham Independent Film Award for Breakthrough Actor (Anya Taylor-Joy), numerous directorial awards
Watch because: the film earns its scares the hard way—by delivering a meticulous recreation of 17th-century settler reality worthy of Terrence Malick.
Trailer and reviews for The Witch

The Lobster

Directed by: Yorgos Lanthimos (DogtoothAlpsAttenberg)
Notable performances: Rachel Weisz, Colin Farrell’s paunch
Honours & Awards: Jury Prize at Cannes 2015
Watch because: no film demonstrates a deeper understanding of “the existential hellscape of modern dating.”
Trailer and reviews for The Lobster

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Directed by: Taika Waititi (What We Do in the ShadowsThor: Ragnarok)
Notable performances: Sam Neill and breakthrough child star Julian Dennison
Honours & Awards: numerous film festival audience awards
Watch because: if any film meets the definition of “crowd pleaser” on this list, it’s this one. What to watch when you crave a fun ride that doesn’t insult your intelligence.
Trailer and reviews for Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Sing Street

Directed by: John Carney (OnceBegin Again)
Notable performances: Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Lucy Boynton
Honours & Awards: National Board of Review, USA: Top Ten Independent Films
Watch because: “… this isn’t just a nostalgia trip. It’s an homage to teenage kicks and the urgency of getting them any way you can.”
Trailer and reviews for Sing Street

Green Room

Directed by: Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin)
Notable performances: Anton Yelchin (R.I.P.), Patrick Stewart
Honours & Awards: National Board of Review, USA: Top Ten Independent Films
Watch because: you can come for the stunt casting and stay for the unbearably ratcheting tension. Jeremy Saulnier mixes the groundedness of Blue Ruin with some well-chosen genre touches, and brings no small knowledge of punk rock.
Trailer and reviews for Green Room

The Wailing

Directed by: Hong-jin Na (The ChaserThe Yellow Sea)
Notable performances: Kim Hwan Hee, Kwak Do-won, Jun Kunimura
Honours & Awards: the most trophies (five) at S. Korea’s Blue Dragon Awards
Watch because: it bends about five different horror genres, hits an incredible high midway with a duelling-shamans scene that you won’t soon forget, and still manages to top it all at the end with a suspenseful climax featuring counterpoint between two apparently supernatural figures, one appropriating a Passion gospel text, the other a Resurrection passage. “It also knocked Captain America: Civil War out of the top spot and became the eighth-biggest opening of a Korean-language movie in Korea ever.”
Trailer and reviews for The Wailing


Directed by: Grímur Hákonarson (Summerland)
Notable performances: Sigurður Sigurjónsson, Theodór Júlíusson
Honours & Awards: Un Certain Regard prize – Cannes 2015
Watch because: the feuding, sheep-farming rural Icelandic brothers at the centre of this absurd, joyful, melancholy, tragic tale are two characters you won’t soon forget. I picked this as my under-appreciated gem of 2016 in a recent year-end round-up.
Trailer and reviews for Rams

Under the Sun

Directed by: Vitaly Mansky
Notable performances: Lee Zin-mi (the 8-year-old girl & ostensible subject of this doc), the North Korean government handlers who were unaware they were being recorded
Honours & Awards: Budapest International Documentary Festival – Festival Prize
Watch because: this is perhaps the most visually compelling film on the list—Mansky has an Antonioni-esque eye for geometry and modernist architecture. But also because this deconstructed-propaganda film that has been hailed by Trump’s own actually has unintentionally critical relevance to Trump’s movement.
Trailer and reviews for Under the Sun

The Treasure

Directed by: Corneliu Porumboiu (12:08 East Of Bucharest; Police, Adjective)
Notable performances: Cuzin Toma, Adrian Purcarescu
Honours & Awards: Prix un certain talent – Un Certain Regard Cannes 2015
Watch because: …the deadpan comedy of repetition… cleverly lulls us into a rhythm whereby we think we know what is going to happen, only to pull the rug several times.
Trailer and reviews for The Treasure


Directed by: Ava DuVernay (Selma)
Notable performances: many, many progressive talking heads. and Newt Gingrich.
Honours & Awards: 3 Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards inc. Best Doc Feature (TV/Streaming)
Watch because: there really hasn’t been a more urgent American documentary in years.
Trailer and reviews for 13th

Like Someone in Love; Jafar Panahi’s Taxi (Netflix Canada picks)

16 Jul
July 16, 2016

Netflix offers just one film from the remarkable oeuvre of Abbas Kiarostami, the master filmmaker whose recent death rocked the film world.  Like Someone in Love contains many of Kiarostami’s trademark elements, including multiple extended scenes of conversations in cars, but also allowed the director to stretch out of the limitations of filming in his native Iran—shooting intimate interior sequences, and filming entirely in Japanese, a language completely foreign to him. It is a film whose meticulous, stepwise revelation and questioning of its characters rewards a patient viewing—and then “doesn’t so much end as screech to a stop” in the most obliquely abrupt way.

While Kiarostami deftly avoided political entanglements with his work, his fellow Iranian director Jafar Panahi has not been so lucky. Barred from making films for twenty years in Iran, he continues, despite his house arrest and lack of distribution, to find clever ways to bypass this ban. In the case of Taxi, he has stumbled upon the approach of driving around Tehran and filming amateur actors with small cameras including a dash cam (riffing on Kiarostami films, most obviously Ten, though the viewer who has not seen those films misses nothing crucial). The conceit is that he is posing as a taxi driver only to be recognized to the surprise of some of his passengers. Multiple levels of ironic comment, and the sheer invention of the episodes, generate a sense of pure fun that you wouldn’t expect from a politically resistant film, and the result is one of the ten best-reviewed films of 2015.

Jimmy’s Hall; ’71 (Netflix Canada picks)

17 Mar
March 17, 2016

It’s been gratifying to see Brooklyn garner Oscar attention and a nice run at the box office; I’ll concede that as a portrayal of Irish emigration to America in the 1950s, it’s a romanticization—but an intelligent one. But two of last year’s better films have, from a historical point of view, more to say about the Irish generation that preceded, and the one that followed.

Ken Loach’s Jimmy’s Hall, the story of the 1933 deportation from Ireland of communist activist Jimmy Gralton, has been criticized somewhat for not being up to Loach’s usual high standard (and certainly not the equal of his other Irish-historical classics The Wind That Shakes the Barley, Hidden Agenda). But if in some ways it is too tidy a narrative, it has much to offer on its own terms, including Andrew Scott bringing more to a small role than you would suspect from his schticky turns as Sherlock‘s Moriarty and Spectre‘s Denbigh, and Jim Norton in a fully three-dimensional portrayal of a repressive Catholic priest.

Netflix Canada, by the way, has one other Ken Loach film at the moment—Route Irish, which like Jimmy’s Hall, was in the Palme d’Or competition at Cannes, but which has nothing to do with Ireland.

71, the spectacular directorial debut of Yann Demange, is a portrayal of some of the most violent conflict that took place in Belfast, not from the distanced view of the leaders, but from the embedded viewpoint of a young British soldier accidentally abandoned by his unit following a riot on the streets, as he tries to find his way to safety. The film is intensely suspenseful throughout and the violence is quite graphic at times—but presented in a sure-handed way that belies its first-picture status.

2016 Oscar nominees for Best Documentary Feature + The Act of Killing (Netflix Canada picks)

29 Feb
February 29, 2016

For me there’s a clear choice for best documentary feature among this year’s five nominees, and it’s the one that’s not yet on Netflix Canada—The Look of Silence. But each of the other films brings something worthwhile.  The winner in this category, Amy, is a skillfully constructed biopic, brilliantly edited and genuinely moving in moments. If it has a flaw for me, it’s that its two-hour-plus running time gave this viewer too much time to think about the way the film underplays Winehouse’s agency both in the course of her career and her addictions. What Happened, Miss Simone?, on the other hand, does a remarkable job of conveying the complexity of Nina Simone, but possibly offers a little too much screen time to her abusive husband—half as much would have been enough to convince me of his awfulness.

Cartel Land contains enough incredible hand-held camera work, and remarkable access to Mexican vigilantes, cartel leaders and workers, to reward a viewing. It is, however, the weakest of this field, partly because the vigilantes on the American side of the border are not particularly compelling. Winter on Fire, on the other hand, makes for intensely taut viewing from start to finish. It is to the Ukraine Maidan uprising what The Square was to the Egyptian Revolution of 2011—both won the People’s Choice Documentary Award at TIFF, and both were subsequently purchased and distributed by Netflix—and what it lacks in the latter’s balanced portrayal of political factions, it perhaps makes up for in the pure intensity of its harrowing footage.

In Canada right now, iTunes is your only option for watching The Look of Silence online, but its predecessor, filmed more or less simultaneously, The Act of Killing is on Netflix, and, frankly, you really need to see both. In terms of content they each stand alone perfectly well, but in terms of film ethics and politics, it’s really impossible to fully judge one without the other. These are important films, more important, it’s fair to say, than all of this year’s other nominees put together.


The Duke of Burgundy; The Beast (Netflix Canada picks)

12 Feb
February 12, 2016

If Berberian Sound Studio mines the history of giallo horror for its meta-cinematic thrills, The Duke of Burgundy, director Strickland’s follow-up, does the same for ’70s art house erotica—”a domestic drama that has fallen out of the hands of a sleazier genre,” he says. Except that here, while the main title, and the conceptually appealing setup of an alternate world populated entirely by women, feel quite “meta,” the story winds its way from the specifics of a role-playing sadomasochistic relationship to the universals of human love—”all done with a poise and high seriousness that still contains a squeak of humour, at an insect-type frequency.”

Strickland’s inspiration, the ’70s sexploitation films—directors like Jess Franco, Tinto Brass, Ken Russell—are not to be found on Netflix, with the strange single exception of The Beast by Valerian Borowczyk. “Finally! I saw a wolf-like beast creature ejaculating repeatedly on a naked Victorian woman. My life has come full circle,” says one user review on Netflix, but I can’t help noticing that the same reviewer gives the film three stars. This “frothing-at-the-mouth artsploitation juggernaut” has its deeply problematic aspects, as you would have to expect, but it is also weirdly compelling in moments, no thanks, or maybe partly thanks, to a completely unconvincing beast costume. The film starts off with some unflinchingly filmed live horse copulation, and builds from that tone-setter. The restored film image is quite excellent, presumably from the same master as 2014’s Blu-ray box, which sold out and is now going on Amazon for several times its initial price. Go figure.


I Origins; While We’re Young (Netflix Canada picks)

10 Feb
February 10, 2016

I Origins has gathered more mixed reviews than any other film that I’ve recommended, I think, and I understand why it divides opinion—here is a movie that tries really hard, no doubt too hard, to come up with a plot you haven’t seen before. Its middle third is easily its strongest, as the film narrowly survives the schmoopiness of its initial meet-cute, before taking some truly unexpected turns on its way to a Shyamalanesque finish. Yet, as another earnest mashup of sci-fi, spiritual philosophy, and romantic melodrama, it has a lot of the fine qualities of Mike Cahill’s preceding—more artistically and financially successful—Another Earth, including another excellent performance by Brit Marling. This is worth a look if originality is what you specifically crave.

I haven’t really been on the Noam Baumbach wagon from the beginning—I personally can’t make it far enough across the generational divide to fully appreciate Frances Ha, and I guess I’m not alone in that—but While We’re Young pleases me in every way. Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts are fully on target as a fortysomething couple whose childless way of life leaves them alienated from their contemporaries and alternately romanticizing and mistrusting their new millennial friends—Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried, perfectly cast. Being actually funny is the hardest thing for a comedy to do. Here is one that makes it look easy.


Barton Fink; O Brother, Where Art Thou? (Netflix Canada picks)

05 Feb
February 5, 2016

Films come and go on Netflix (ok, lately, there’s less come and more go), but you can usually find a sampling of the Coen brothers oeuvre, and right now, perhaps to help hype this weekend’s release of Hail, Caesar!, the sampling is pretty strong: The Big Lebowski, Miller’s Crossing, Raising Arizona, Inside Llewyn Davis. But the long-underappreciated Barton Fink continues to be a favourite of mine. A completely unblocked film about writer’s block (sharing that honour, and Judy Davis, with Naked Lunch), and a thoroughly uncompromised film about artistic compromise, it remains one of their least financially successful films, and a Rosetta Stone that unlocks much of the rest of their work. If you haven’t seen these performances by John Goodman and John Turturro, you haven’t seen everything they can do.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? is an equally intellectually devious concoction, but one that audiences found much more easily consumable, partly due to some memorable comic moments, but in large measure due to its fantastic soundtrack—a record that rebooted a whole genre of folk, perhaps at the expense of being massively overplayed. But watching the film’s series of set pieces flow along over these songs remains a treat, as are its callbacks to The Odyssey and Preston Sturges’ Sullivan Travels—from which it borrowed its title, its period setting, and a scene setup or two. It is quite simply a masterclass in how to build on layers of reference without making that the whole point of the exercise.

A note about transfers—O, Brother, with a lifetime box-office 9 or 10 times that of Barton Fink, has fared well in home video, and the version on Netflix seems to be taken from the same master as the 2011 Blu-ray. Fink, however, has still not received a proper clean-up or domestic Blu-ray release, though the comparatively shoddy disc that was released in Europe in 2012 is region-free and thus watchable here. The Netflix version appears to have been pulled from the 2003 DVD master, which, though lacking the contrast and detail of the Blu-ray, is pillar-boxed and thus retains the full, uncropped image that viewers saw in theatrical release.


Ten of the very best films of 2015 are already on Netflix Canada

02 Jan
January 2, 2016

Some of the films on year-end best-of lists will take months yet to show up on streaming services, but here are ten from the cream of the 2015 crop that you can watch right now.

Clouds of Sils Maria

Directed by: Olivier Assayas (Carlos, Something in the Air)
Notable performances: Kristen Stewart, Juliette Binoche
Honours & Awards: Best Supporting Actress (Kristen Stewart)—César Awards 2015, NY Film Critics Circle 2015
Watch because: from first frame to last, this is an absolutely incandescent performance by Kristen Stewart. Juliette Binoche is no slouch either.

Ex Machina

Directed by: Alex Garland (screenwriter: 28 Days Later, Sunshine)
Notable performances:
 Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson
Honours & Awards: Best British Independent Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Outstanding Achievement in Craft—British Independent Film Awards 2015; Top 10 Independent Films—National Board of Review 2015
Watch because: striking visuals, and three very strong acting performances, drive a science fiction narrative that actually cares about ideas.

White God

Directed by: Kornél Mundruczó (Johanna)
Notable performances:
Zsófia Psotta, 250 dogs
Honours & Awards: Prix un certain regard—Cannes Film Festival 2014
Watch because: where else can you see 250 dogs storming the streets of Budapest in a canine uprising—without CGI augmentation.


Directed by: Céline Sciama (Tomboy)
Notable performances:
Karidja Touré in a breakthrough
Honours & Awards: Nominated for Best Director, Most Promising Actress (Karidja Touré), Best Sound, Best Music—César Awards 2015
Watch because: “Raw and insistent, bold and brawling, Girlhood throbs with the global now, illustrating the ways an indifferent society boxes in the people who grow up in project-style boxes.”

The Duke of Burgundy

Directed by: Peter Strickland (Berberian Sound Studio)
Notable performances:
Sidse Babett Knudsen, Chiara D’Anna
Honours & Awards: Best Composer: Cat’s Eyes—European Film Awards 2015
Watch because: it’s, oh, just another “densely layered, slyly funny portrayal of the sadomasochistic affair between two lesbian entomologists.”

The Salt of the Earth

Directed by: Juliano Ribeiro Salgado (Nauru: An Island Adrift), Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire; Paris, Texas; Pina)
Honours & Awards: Un Certain Regard Special Prize—Cannes Film Festival 2014; Best Documentary—César Awards 2015
Watch because: this is one case where “epic emotional journey” a) is not an inflated description and b) unexpectedly describes a documentary about a photographer. Without doubt the most deeply moving film I have seen this year.

It Follows

Directed by: David Robert Mitchell (The Myth of the American Sleepover)
Notable performance:
Maika Monroe
Honours & Awards: Nominated for Best Director, Best Editing, Best Cinematography—Independent Spirit Awards 2016; Top 10 Independent Films—National Board of Review 2015
Watch because: it’s for anyone who likes their creep-outs smart, aware of film history, socially astute, but most of all—actually scary.

While We’re Young

Directed by: Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale, Frances Ha)
Notable performances:
 Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried, Charles Grodin
Honours & Awards: Top 10 Independent Films—National Board of Review 2015
Watch because: in a film comedically juiced by clever casting and spot-on X-er/millennial collisions, the ultimate highlight is a Ben Stiller performance that (at least for its runtime) will make you forget all about his career bloat.

Wild Tales

Directed by: Damián Szifron (The Six Billion Dollar Manyes that is happening in 2017)
Notable performances:
 several, spread across 6 different stories—my fave is Érica Rivas as the bride, Romina
Honours & Awards: Best Spanish Language Foreign Film—Goya Awards (Spain); nominated for Best Foreign Language Film —2015 Academy Awards
Watch because: “in its vibrant lunacy, and with its cartoonishly brash violence, it’s a little bit Almodóvar, a little bit Tarantino”—and probably a little bit Buñuel too, if less psychoanalytic and subversive.


Directed by: Albert Maysles (Salesman, Gimme Shelter, Grey Gardens)
Honours & Awards: Best Documentary Feature (Audience Award)—Hamptons International Film Festival 2014
Watch because: this biopic/slice-of-life doc portrait of fashion icon Iris Apfel, she of the enormous chunky glasses and bracelets, gains added poignancy from its scenes of the 100th birthday of her husband Carl (since deceased), and a couple of brief glimpses of legendary director Maysles (also since deceased).

Velvet Goldmine; I’m Not There (Netflix Canada picks)

31 Dec
December 31, 2015

Velvet Goldmine – Todd Haynes, USA, 1998, 124 minutes

I’m Not There – Todd Haynes, USA, 2007, 135 minutes

One of two Todd Haynes features that I did not see in theatrical release, Velvet Goldmine is a winning discovery on Netflix, with more than enough glam rock indulgence and rock-opera-esque twists to compensate for whatever it lacks in character specificity. The original songs are stylistically true enough that when we hear the first actual song from the era—T Rex’s “Cosmic Dancer”, nearly an hour in—it blends seamlessly rather than distracting. In retrospect it’s not surprising that the film continues to generate a cult with successive generations of viewers. As the director points out in a recent interview, the fluidity of sexual identity continues to be a subversive, relevant topic.

The other Haynes film to be found on Netflix Canada, I’m Not There, was a happy rediscovery. Sure I remembered that it features six different Bob Dylans, notably Cate Blanchett, Richard Gere, and Christian Bale… but I’d forgotten that we also get Ben “Q” Whishaw as poet-Dylan, and a remarkable performance by Heath Ledger, in another reminder of what a loss he represents, opposite a soulful Charlotte Gainsbourg. The meta-biopic approach holds up really well on repeated viewing, and only lags in the last ten minutes or so, which needs to find individual endpoints for six different Dylans. A persuasive and surprisingly coherent riot of surfaces, the film is carried along by an inspired soundtrack and a number of creative casting choices, including a funny yet weirdly appropriate David Cross as Allen Ginsberg.