With over 38,000 hours of content available on Netflix, it's no wonder that many of us often waste most of the evening just sifting through suggestions before trying that new hyped movie, only to bail out after the first ten minutes in favour of re-watching half an episode of Friends.
Netflix excels when it comes to compelling documentaries you'll devour in one sitting, but it's also got an extensive roster of off-beat and subversive scripted films, so we've picked out a small selection of our favourites in both fact and fiction to inspire you this weekend. Whether you're in the mood for comedy, reality or drama, we think there's a new film on Netflix that will delight and surprise.
These selections are based on Netflix's UK and US offerings, but if you're stuck in a different territory and need to unlock your own country's streaming selection, remember you can use a VPN (many of which offer a free trial). Now let's get into those Netflix recommendations...
Want more? Check out our round-up of the best music-related documentaries, films and TV shows on Netflix.
Some Kind Of Heaven
Imagine for a moment that Disneyland were populated by 130,000 wealthy retirees all looking to live out their days in their own personal idea of bliss, and you wouldn’t be too far off the reality of The Villages in Florida, the US’s largest retirement community and the subject of this striking, funny and touching documentary.
Vast in its size and range of leisure activities, The Villages unduly caters to its residents' hobbies, desires, and whims with over 50 golf courses and clubs for everything from belly dancing to having the name Elaine.
Some Kind Of Heaven focuses on four residents whose fantasy retirement hasn’t turned out quite how they hoped. There’s Barbara from Boston, recently widowed and unable to afford her bills unless she works for The Villages full time. Then there’s 81-year-old Dennis, a drifter who lives in his van and uses the community’s pool facilities as a way to pick up women. Married for 47 years, Anne and Reggie have drifted apart since moving to The Villages, partly because Anne now occupies her time with solo sporting pursuits and partly because Reggie has taken up hardcore hallucinogenics.
Taking a peek underneath the sunny palm tree-lined surface, Some Kind Of Heaven reveals a trompe l'oeil Shangri-La full of retirees trapped in a bizarre reimagining of student life complete with sporting societies and endless margarita club nights. Just like the authentic university experience, it's a lifestyle only open to those who can afford it and sometimes results in crippling debts. Shot in a 4:3 aspect ratio, this witty documentary captures the trippy surrealism of the American retirement dream but grounds it with its subjects' honest vulnerability and deadpan humour.
Also Try: In a world of hit and miss documentaries, Dogwoof productions remain a consistent marker of quality. Check out some of the company's other offerings currently on Netflix, including The Ice King (opens in new tab), about Olympic figure skater John Curry, and of course the classic Sea World shock doc Blackfish (opens in new tab).
Locker room pep talks litter many a Netflix drama and sports documentary, but you’ve never heard one quite like the opening scene of Audible. The Orioles are two touchdowns behind the opposition and facing losing their 42-game winning streak. Some players try to hide their frustration, while others are openly despondent. But collectively they urge each other to keep pushing, it’s many of the players' final semester, and they don’t want their time on the team to be defined by failure.
Hailing from Frederick, Maryland, the Orioles are part of America’s championship high school football league, playing teams from across the country and representing their school, Maryland School for the Deaf. Everyone on the pitch – the players, cheerleaders and coaches – communicates only through American Sign Language, the referee's whistle replaced with a bass drum.
Audible is bookended by two crucial games and includes evocative sequences of sunrise drills and twilight practices. However, the film also concentrates on the lives and struggles of these young athletes as they boldly navigate high school, familial tensions, relationships and tragedy.
An Oscar nominee for best documentary short, Audible runs at only 38 minutes, and you get the feeling that there is a compelling story here that could easily fill a full-length feature or docu-series. But distilled as it is, it offers a striking and immersive introduction to a world unknown to most people.
Also Try: Another Netflix Oscar nominee is the equally worthy Lead Me Home (opens in new tab), a 39-minute exploration of homelessness in California that’s cinematic, poetic and devastating.
Netflix is the only place you’ll find Amelie director Jean Pierre Jeunet’s latest film, Bigbug, which he has said initially struggled to find funding – and it’s not hard to see why. Set in the year 2049, Bigbug is a clever yet absurd sci-fi satire about a group of suburbanites who have been locked inside by their domestic robots, while outside a fascist android uprising threatens the entire human race.
Trapped together in these less than ideal circumstances are a recently divorced couple, their daughter (adopted from the Netherlands when it became uninhabitable), their respective new partners and a nosy neighbour with her personal robot programmed in the art of seduction.
While the family engages in a rapid-fire drawing-room style comedy, the household robots of varying generations conspire together to analyse their reasons for upsetting their owners and whether or not they can ever truly assimilate with humans.
Fans of Jeunet’s early work including Delicatessen, and the City Of Lost Children will be familiar with his taste for the apocalypse. Here he combines big tech parody with quirky humour, gorgeous production design and a healthy dose of sex farce, because after all this is a French film.
Also try: If dystopian humour is your bag then Netflix has you well covered with its originals Don’t Look Up (opens in new tab) and The Mitchells vs The Machines (opens in new tab). If Gallic charm’s more your thing, Jeunet’s smash hit Amelie (opens in new tab) is back on the service this month, or alternatively there’s Stuck Together (opens in new tab), an unexpectedly enjoyable take on pandemic life set in an apartment block in Paris during the confinement.
The Power Of The Dog
This Oscar-nominated drama centres on two contrasting but co-dependent brothers who have gone into business together running a ranch in rural Montana. Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) is strong and masculine but callously cruel to everyone around him while George (Jesse Plemons) is reserved and yearns to climb in social standing.
After George marries a young widow (Kirsten Dunst in one of her best performances) and brings her to live on the farmstead, she is tormented by Phil’s jibes and in the isolation of the farm starts to succumb to alcoholism. Her son, who comes to stay with them during his summer holiday from medical school, is also a target of Phil's insults for his perceived femininity, but soon starts to win his attention by taking a somewhat macabre interest in the process of treating cowhides.
With a slow-burn plot, The Power Of The Dog remains quietly gripping, building to a surprising final act that feels well earned. Atmospheric, psychological and subversive while remaining focused, sharp and well crafted, its themes of strained domestic bonds and destructive masculinity are delicately and incisively explored.
Also try: With its stunning cinematography and story of repression in a hyper-macho setting, Brokeback Mountain (opens in new tab), back on Netflix this month, is an obvious pairing for this stylish western. For another well-paced character-driven period film try the impressive and underrated World War Two drama The Forgotten Battle (opens in new tab).
The reason was that there was not a single film by some of the all-time great directors of cinema. Not a single Kurasawa. No Almodovar. No Resnais. No Michael Powell. No Pasolini. No Truffault. I could go on.
I asked the Netflix person to find films by these directors but he came back with none.
I understand what Nexflix offers. It is the entertainment equivalent of McDonalds, Burger King, Domino Pizza., Chicken Tikka Masala home delivered.
That's OK. Who would want to watch more than one Ingmar Bergman movie per year? Or even one, unless your are comfortable with suicidal Scandi gloom?
I guess you could say that my taste is for 'Art Cinema'. I woul subscribe to a Netflix 'Art Cinema' channel but as it is - even free - I pass.