5. Baseball (Netflix)
As this year’s MLB season nears its post season, one of the best sports documentaries, and one of the most expansive, is currently available to stream online for Netflix subscribers. From director Ken Burns comes Baseball, a monstrous juggernaut of a documentary series (clocking in at over 20 hours, including the more recent Tenth Inning segment) that looks at the creation, expansion and history of the game that has become not only “America’s Pastime,” but also one of the most popular sports in all the world. Originally made for PBS, the series is able to be streamed right now in its entirety, and while it may not be the most appealing viewing experience for those adverse to the sport, it may just make you nostalgic for a sport that has meant more than just an entertainment source for this nation. From its formation as the nation’s number one sport to its influence on the healing of this nation following the attacks on September 11, 2001, this is as encompassing, beautifully made and truly poetic a look at a singular sport that you’ll ever see.
4. Possessed (Warner Archive Instant)
Slowly becoming one of the most interesting streaming services around, The Warner Archive has added one of the more underrated noirs you’re likely to see. From director Curtis Bernhardt, the film stars Joan Crawford and Van Heflin, and is best known as the perfectly titled Possessed. Released in 1947, the film looks at a woman who is admitted into a psych ward following a series of events that has her stumbling about LA in search of a man named David. What follows is a collection of flashbacks telling the story of this woman and her long lost lover, ultimately becoming as potent a melodramatic piece of noir as you’re bound to see this weekend. Inherently about a woman with split personalities, the film itself holds within it a deeply troubling sense of style, using flashbacks to make the film feel as bewildering as the mind of our leading lady, a Joan Crawford at the very height of her powers. Van Heflin is always a joy to watch on screen, and this film is no different, as his David is truly a superb turn. Inherently kinetic and in many ways a melodrama, this picture is truly a superb bit of neo noir that still holds up this very moment.
3. Computer Chess (iTunes)
Of all modern filmmakers, very few have sparked as much debate and discussion as “mumblecore” icon Andrew Bujalski. Seen as the father of this polarizing dramatic “genre” of sorts (it’s more an aesthetic than anything, but its semantics at this point), his latest film Computer Chess is now available for mass consumption after a theatrical run a few months back. Starring names like Patrick Reister and Criterion alum Wiley Wiggins (Dazed And Confused), the film follows a man vs. computer chess tournament, and is deliciously set in the 1980s. Easily 2013’s funniest film and possibly its most underrated picture, Bujalski’s new work may very well be his best, and is easily one of his most assured and stunningly crafted. Also behind the script, Bujalski is the star here, proving to be at the very top of his game, a director beyond silly pejoratives and mumblecore-bashing pot shots. Creating a truly superb comedy with this picture, Bujalski affirms himself as one of today’s most interesting indie American auteurs. The film is available for rent, now, on iTunes.
2. The Spiders (Fandor)
With influences still being felt within genres ranging from sci-fi to film noir, Fritz Lang has become synonymous with just about every genre of cinema one could possibly imagine. Especially the film epic. Behind the definitive film epic in Die Nibelugen, one of Lang’s most underappreciated films also happens to be from the world of epic adventure cinema. Known as The Spiders, the film clocks in at almost three hours, and while it is not as mammoth a film as Nibelungen, or as ground-shattering as a film like Metropolis, The Spiders is a thrilling cinematic adventure as you’ll ever encounter. A two part masterpiece of adventure cinema, the film is deeply influenced itself by the serials of filmmakers like Louis Feuillade, and hints once again at Lang’s seemingly obsessive sense of love for Asian culture. Telling the story of an adventurer on the hunt for gold, the film is an adventure epic that itself spurned generations of serials and franchises like none other than Indiana Jones. A definitive silent epic, the film is easily one of today’s greatest action epics and stands up almost 100 years after its initial release.
1. Room 237 (Netflix)
Since its release last year, this writer has been a rather boisterous supporter of the controversial essay film, Room 237. Just landing outside of my own top 10 of last year, the documentary is now available to stream on Netflix, and is the most interesting film you’ll see all weekend. A thrillingly singular and histrionic meditation on post-modern criticism more than anything pertaining to Stanley Kubrick’s horror masterpiece The Shining, Room 237 breathes new life into just what it means to look at a film critically. Yes, the thesis that each voice posits throughout this film’s runtime may seem silly and cartoonishly out of place, but the film never seems to judge these ideas, positing that each is as vital as the rest because each idea is given vitality through past experiences of those viewing the film. Taking out the idea of “directorial intent,” this film is as interesting a look at film criticism as we’ve seen in a very, very long time.