Every day, more and more films are added to the various streaming services out there, ranging from Netflix to YouTube, and are hitting the airwaves via movie-centric networks like TCM. Therefore, sifting through all of these pictures can be a tedious and often times confounding or difficult ordeal. But, that’s why we’re here. Every week, Joshua brings you five films to put at the top of your queue, add to your playlist, or grab off of VOD to make your weekend a little more eventful. Here is this week’s top five, in this week’s Armchair Vacation.
5. Emperor’s New Groove (Netflix)
While Disney has, as a proper animation studio, seen better days (their work with the Pixar brain trust notwithstanding, one of the last truly great minor masterpieces is currently available to stream on Netflix, for subscribers. From director Mark Dindal and featuring one of the only David Spade performances worth its weight in used celluloid, The Emperor’s New Groove is now stream-able, and beyond stream-worthy. Beautifully animated, wonderfully stylized and oozing laughs out of every pore, the film is both a really great comedy, and more importantly, one of Disney proper’s most inspired voice castings. With great turns from the likes of Spade, John Goodman, Patrick Warburton and most importantly Eartha Kitt, the film gives each of its characters a handful of really superb moments to shine. A perfect film for both children and adults, this is arguably the greatest Disney film from its modern age and surely one of its most beautiful and easily one of its most memorable. And overall, it’s just a modern classic of the animation genre.
4. Samsara (Netflix)
Coming from director Ron Fricke, this new, breathtaking documentary is now available to stream on Netflix, and while that’s far from the best way to view a film like Samsara, it’s at least an easy way for the world to dig into this film’s genuine beauty. Very similar to the Qatsi trilogy from which Fricke got his start, and as a spiritual sequel to his masterpiece, 1992’s Baraka, this 70mm gem of a documentary does go as heavy handed and seemingly ham fisted as his previous pictures, but also becomes something of a wonder in its pure cinematic aesthetic. Openly describing itself as a film expanding on themes instead of an actual narrative, this awe-inspiring picture looks at man’s connection to nature verging on being almost spiritual in the way it views humanity, and while it all comes together to form something slightly over the top, it also becomes something utterly bewildering, almost overwhelmingly beautiful and unlike anything you’ll see currently on Netflix.
3. Chasing Ice (Netflix)
Well, almost unlike anything. We here at The Criterion Cast, particularly yours truly, have been talking about this picture a lot since it arrived on home video this week, and for good reason. This documentary is ostensibly a look at a man’s journey from climate change skeptic to full on leader and advocate, but even more so it’s a meditation on just how much damage has already occurred due to climate change, and ultimately how fast all this damage has occurred at. Featuring some of the most beautiful imagery you’ll ever see, definitely on a screen this year, the film is not only a drenched-in-facts documentary that really cements its place atop the list of great issue documentaries of this modern age, but, in keeping with a film like Samsara, the film is just as much focused on portraying the film entirely cinematically, that is simply through images, as it is through graphs and numbers. More than just a character study, more than just a documentary, this is a must see piece of absolutely pure cinema, that put the final, or a final, nail in the climate change skepticism coffin.
2. Black Girl (Netflix)
Very few things get this writer as excited and energized as the addition of a classic film from the canon of African cinema to a streaming service like Netflix. Easily the most rare collection of films from any single continent, African cinema is a style of film entirely its own, and no single filmmaker epitomized this continent’s aesthetic and tone quite like Ousmane Sembene. One of the director’s best films, his masterpiece Black Girl, is currently on Netflix, and may be one of the best films the service has to offer. This Senegalese masterpiece tells the tale of a young Senegalese woman who is tasked by her white mistress to do the acts of a normal maid. The film is an underseen piece from the real father of African cinema, which looks deeply at experience had during this time period in sub-Saharan Africa, posited by scholars as being a breathless meditation on decolonization as much as it is a racial divide. Just a superb, and briskly paced, drama, this film will forever have you hooked on African film. I know it’s become one of my personal favorite films from this continent.
1. Welcome To Pine Hill (Netflix)
One of 2013’s smallest pictures, Keith Miller’s Welcome To Pine Hill is also easily this year’s most overlooked. A Slamdance darling from 2012, the film won that festival’s Grand Jury Prize, and has become one of indie cinema’s most talked about features from 2013. Following the story of a former drug dealer on the brink of the end of his life trying to make peace with the life he’s lived and the world he’s leaving, this is a brazenly quiet and intimate picture led by an award worthy lead performance from Shannon Harper. Introspective and purely cinematic in a completely different way from a film like Samsara, Miller’s picture tells a singular narrative in a dramatic, melancholy way that only cinema truly can. With a star-making lead performance and some top tier photography, this is a film that is not to be missed.