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. Raise The Red Lantern (YouTube)
One of Chinese cinema’s greatest modern masterpieces, Zhang Yimou’s generation defining classic is relatively hard to find on home video or airing on TV, but thankfully, this gem of a film is available to stream, albeit on YouTube. Not exactly how the cinematographer-turned-filmmaker envisioned this awe-inspiring masterwork to be seen, the film is well worth the slightly two hour-plus runtime, and is easily one of the best films of the last, say, 30 or so years. A film truly beyond its years aesthetically, the film tells the tale of a nineteen year old girl who is, after her father’s death, forced to wed a lord named Chen Zuoqian. A man already housing three wives in three separate homes, Zuoqian chooses each night the wife he will sleep with, and raises a lantern to note who his choice was. One of the most visually striking feature films ever made, Yimou’s film is a breathtaking visual spectacle that becomes something truly masterful once the performances are allowed to breath depth into the picture. Spearheaded by a career defining turn from Gong Li, the film is truly one of the greatest foreign language films ever made, and will stand the test of time as a visual stunner unlike anything seen before, and since.
4. Shut Up And Play The Hits (Netflix)
When it comes to documentaries, music is an almost too covered subject. Be it the concert film or the look back at a career of a legend or a lesser known cult icon, but very few are quite like the recent documentary Shut Up And Play The Hits. Ostensibly a blend of an interview between Chuck Klosterman and LCD Soundsystem lead singer James Murphy and footage from the band’s final performance at Madison Square Garden, the film is directed by the pair of Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace and is as lively and wonderfully full of energy as the band’s music truly was. However, the interview may be the real star, as the idea of looking at this type of cult music icon is as thrilling as any wonderfully shot performance piece could ever be. That said, seeing this group perform live is truly entrancing, and the joy of seeing this group one last time, along with their friends ranging from comedian Reggie Watts to some members of the equally beloved Arcade Fire, ultimately culminating in a really superb dual concert film and meditation on fame in a modern world. Simply put, this film is definitively great.
3. Requiem For A Dream (Netflix)
There are films that become hits, and then there are films that truly define eras. And while this film may not be as definitive a picture for its generation as say, a Fight Club, director Darren Aronofsky’s masterpiece, Requiem For A Dream is as influential and important a film as was released in the 2000s. A film you have likely seen at least once, this classic is now streaming on Netflix, and while it may not be all that appetizing a film to watch a second time, it is more than deserving of a first, second or fortieth watch (if you’re that high, you’re simply a glutton for pain). Featuring career-defining performances from the likes of Jared Leto and Jennifer Connelly, the film is a performance piece second though, as Aronofsky steals the show with as esoteric an aesthetic as you’ll ever see. A relative far cry from his current work on much more muted pictures like Black Swan, Requiem For A Dream is as kinetic a film as there has ever been, and may very well be the most noticeably singular film we saw during the 2000s. It’s truly a gorgeous film that doesn’t pull punches narratively or aesthetically, and in a year, 2013, of the perverse American Dream picture, this feels oddly pertinent, and more than worthy of a re-watch.
2. A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (TCM; Friday, 11pm EST)
Everyone has seen the film, everyone knows the back story of this originally-meant-to-be-a-Kubrick-film picture and yet, it’s one of the truly forgotten films within the canon of director Steven Spielberg. A gorgeous picture following the story of David, a robot with the added ability to feel love, A.I. is yet another bit of proof stating that very few filmmakers, particularly this generation, have been able to make science-fiction as truly universal and bewilderingly heart wrenching as Spielberg. The film is set to air on TCM this weekend, and while, again, it has become seen as something of a forgotten, seemingly second or third tier Spielberg picture, it is easily one of his most exciting and singular pictures. With wonderful effects and some great performances the film does suffer from a seemingly odd final 30-ish minutes, but is a genuinely moving and thrilling motion picture worthy of praise and admiration. Hopefully, one day, it will find the respect that it so rightly deserves.
1. Around A Small Mountain (Mubi)
While many sight names like Godard or Truffaut when speaking of the legends of the French New Wave, few to none will give equal weight to the name Jacques Rivette. A real contemporary of the critics-turned-filmmakers of the iconic French cinematic movement that birthed the careers of people like Chabrol and Rohmer, he’s been noted by critics as not only a massive player in the New Wave movement, but the one who people speak of the least. However, thankfully names like Mubi are keeping his name alive and well. Subscribers to their streaming service are now privy to one of the director’s most interesting works, his recent picture, Around A Small Mountain. Easily the director’s shortest feature (he may be lesser known partially due to his work’s massive average length) it is also a genuinely exciting bit of cinema that proves that while he may be joining his fellow New Wavers on the back nine of their careers, he’s still as vital a voice as there is in film. Following the story of a man who becomes enthralled by a woman he encounters while driving, the film is both wonderfully charming and intimate, yet beautifully obtuse and delightfully off kilter. Perfectly described by the late Roger Ebert as a film that simply posits that “we all have to weather hard times,” the film is alive with energy and playfulness, despite having a seemingly hypnotizing aesthetic and pacing. It’s absolutely the best film you’ll stream all weekend.