Netflix Hidden Gems

January 29th, 2013

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With short days, frigid temperatures, and wet conditions, the last thing we feel like doing lately is going out every night. Now is the ideal time to curl up with a glass of wine by the fire, sheltered from the adverse conditions outside. Netflix is our go-to source for at-home entertainment, and at a mere $8 a month – less than our weekly coffee expenditure – it’s hard to resist this streaming service that has dramatically altered the model for how we access television and film. While Netflix Canada’s offerings are objectively inferior to what’s available in the States, it remains a vast treasure trove of content with more than enough diversity to appeal to even the most discerning viewer; in fact, its richest offerings are in the fields of foreign and independent film. Although it’s extraordinarily easy to lose hours of your life watching complete seasons of Mad Men, Weeds, Breaking Bad and Community, Netflix has far more to offer than cable television and guilty pleasures like Twin Peaks and the original 90210. Here are a few of Netflix’s hidden gems that we’ve enjoyed this past month.

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Moshe Kasher: Live in Oakland, 2011

Netflix offers no shortage of great stand up comedy specials – Zach Galifinakis’ Live at the Purple Onion, Eddie Murphy’s RAW and Louis C.K.: Chewed Up are all must sees – and our latest find is emerging comic Moshe Kasher’s Netflix-produced Live in Oakland. Kasher, who’s been on our radar since he published his autobiography Kasher in the Rye last year, does not disappoint in his first foray into the world of television stand-up. His fast-paced set is laugh-out-loud funny and exhibits his signature angsty wit and biting humour. Kasher is the sort of comic who really benefits from being seen rather than heard or read as his energy and animated facial expressions enhance the delivery of his jokes. Nothing is off limits for Kasher as he directs his snark at all aspects of our culture and the result is nothing short of hilarious.

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Jeff Who Lives at Home, 2011

Netflix is a great resource for indie films that while popular on the festival circuit never made it to wide release. We must admit that we had never heard of Jeff Who Lives at Home before coming across it on Netflix despite it being a vehicle for two of our favourite television stars, Jason Segal and Ed Helms. As Segal can do no wrong in our eyes we clicked immediately and were surprised to find that the film had far more depth than its stoner (Segal, obviously) searches for the meaning of life premise. Directed by the cult-favourite and mumblecore enthusiasts Duplass brothers, Jeff Who Lives at Home is more an in-depth character study than a traditional narrative and has the quirky, slightly dark sensibility that has become the Duplass’ signature. With Susan Sarandon and the very funny Judy Greer rounding out the cast, this indie gem is well worth a watch.

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Tiny Furniture, 2010

Admittedly Tiny Furniture can no longer be considered a hidden gem since Lena Dunham is pretty much as it as “it” gets these days. Yet this pre-Girls release, which Dunham also wrote, directs and stars in, is a great Netflix find for Girls devotees and the uninitiated alike. Starring Dunham’s real life mom and sister, as well as future Girls stars Jemima Kirke and Alex Karpovsky, Tiny Furniture has a low-budget, low-fi student vibe that is endearing and makes the film feel more authentic than her slicker HBO effort. Those who find Dunham’s narcissism and self-indulgence on Girls unbearable likely won’t be enamoured by Tiny Furniture either as the film is a proto-Girls of sorts with all its confessional self-absorption and youth angst. With Dunham’s cutting wit and humour on full display, Tiny Furniture is an absorbing portrayal of the stasis and confusion that characterize life in your early 20s.

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The Lives of Others, 2006

The Lives of Others, a German film from writer-director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck which won the Academy Award for best foreign language film in 2006, is the ideal movie to watch when you’re in the mood for something dark and deeply disturbing. The film takes place in East Berlin in the early 1980s when government surveillance was prevalent and dissidence was not tolerated. The film explores this culture of suspicion where everyone is being watched and informants – friends, family members – are rampant, while telling the tale of the Stasi’s surveillance of a prominent playwright. Von Donnersmarck’s picture is a compelling exploration of the disintegration of a culture that occurs when its citizens are turned against each other in the name of national security and unity. The Lives of Others quickly turns into a thriller with a number of unexpected twists while questioning if compassion ever influenced the decision making of government surveillance officers.

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Good Bye, Lenin!, 2003

Netflix is a great resource for foreign films, both big budget and independent, and we are consistently impressed with the depth of the titles on offer. Good Bye, Lenin! is one of those films that we remember hearing about when it was in theatres, but we never found an opportunity to see it. The film, directed by Wolfgang Becker, recounts the slightly absurd tale of a boy who goes to great lengths to keep his socialist mother from discovering that the Berlin Wall has fallen once she emerges from a coma after eight months. The film is deeply touching and poignant, and while there are undoubtedly comedic moments it is also quite sad. More than just a story of one family’s plight, Good Bye, Lenin! offers a probing reflection on Germany’s attempt to rebuild after a turbulent recent history.


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