Best of Netflix: Spring 2014

*Many thanks to my housemate Jason’s parents for paying for the Netflix account which has enabled these viewings.

**We offered to chip in, but they said no.

***So we relentlessly mooch.

****But will buy them a nice gift basket at Christmas.

Netflix has both paralyzed and enhanced my TV and movie watching experiences.  Paralyzed because there are so many options.  Sometimes I spend a whole hour scrolling through, seeking the show or movie I am perfectly in the mood for.  Enhanced because there are so many options.  I no longer have to pay 29.99 at Target or 2.00 at Redbox for every movie I watch.  Hundreds of titles are instantly available.

Enhanced, further, because the presence of so many options has caused me to be more eclectic with my choices.  And let me tell you, being eclectic with my choices has caused me to watch some fantastic shows and movies as of late.

I thought I’d share, if only to lessen your own crippling paralysis in the face of so many options.

Best Things I’ve Seen on Netflix Recently:

1. Top of the Lake

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I don’t much like thrillers or crime thrillers or mystery thrillers or suspense in general.  But someone mentioned that Elizabeth Moss was involved, and I found myself, a few hours later, bundled up on the couch beginning Top of the Lake.  The fact that Jane Campion produces, writes, and directs, was of course very encouraging as well.
I haven’t finished it, but so far, a young girl has attempted suicide in an isolated New Zealand lake community, and then disappeared.  Elizabeth Moss’s character, a detective in town visiting her mother, has been called in to help.
This show is layered.  Layers of relationships, of secrets, of local legends, all of which seem as if they’ve been around long before we started gawking in.  Top of the Lake is not cheapened with easy tenseness, nor was there ever a pause in the natural flow for the sort of “get to know you” period we’ve come to expect from TV.  Jane Campion is incapable of stiffness or awkwardness in filmmaking, I’m firmly convinced.
And honestly, if you’re not on board with anything else about the series, the scenery will get you.  Filmed on location in New Zealand.  It’s terrifying and beautiful.  I would take a buddy with me, but my god, I’d visit there in an instant.
2. Sherlock
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Admittedly, this isn’t a terribly original inclusion.  Everyone and their uncle is watching Sherlock.  But if you’re a doubter, as I was, here’s why you should limp toward the light: Sherlock is a spin-off of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s mystery books.  The series gives a cheeky nod to that literary history every now and then, but most of the mysteries Sherlock and Dr. Watson race to solve are thoroughly modern and realistic in feel: terrorist bombings, DNA mutations, etc.  And Sherlock is smart.  My god, is it smart.  I can’t even play Candy Crush while I watch or I’ll miss some crucial detail, some subtle glance, some seemingly stray — but absolutely vital — text.
If you’ve always pooh poohed mystery series for being overdramatic or predictable, you’ll like this one.  Because I think Sherlock pooh poohs other mystery series too.
Also, I’m team Watson.  Anyone with me?  No? No?
3. Short Term 12
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Short Term 12 is about a twenty-something who works at a residential treatment facility for troubled young people.  While  a tagline like that perhaps implies a certain amount of preaching, Short Term 12 manages to depict both the beauty and the pain in these kids’–and their caretakers’–lives without being overbearing about it.  In fact, the film was documentary-like in the extent to which the characters and story felt “left alone.”
If you can only have time for one indie film in between summer blockbusters, watch this one.
4. The Descendents 
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This is one of those films that’s extremely funny if you step back and think about the pieces of the plot, but that doesn’t strike you as comedic as you watch.
George Clooney, better than I’ve ever seen him, plays a “fall back parent,” a father utterly disconnected from his wife and kids until a tragic accident jars him up to the plate.  His wife in the hospital, he takes his kids on a pilgrimage around the Hawaiian Islands to find the man who perhaps deserves blame for what has happened.
The Descendents is a study in parents not knowing how to be “parents.”  Of ancestry and tradition utterly alien to the twentieth century, and yet still mysteriously important.
Of, perhaps most notably, the beauty of Hawaii.  In fact, Hawaii should have won Best Actress in 2011 for her performance in The Descendents.  Step off, Meryl.

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