January is a dreary time for the moviegoer. It’s so cold that there is little else to do, but the local multiplexes do not exactly have much to offer
By Noah Gittell
January is a dreary time for the moviegoer. It’s so cold that there is little else to do, but the local multiplexes do not exactly have much to offer. If you’re serious about movies, you’ve already seen most of the prestige films that came out at the end of the year, so you are left with junk of both the action (“Taken 3”) and comedy (“The Wedding Ringer”) variety.
The good news is that some of the best films of 2014 that you might have missed are currently streaming on Netflix, which means you don’t even have to leave the house to get your cinema fix. Here’s a rundown of your options:
Jeremy Saulnier’s micro-budgeted indie is a violent revenge story that is also a comment on movie violence. Macon Blair plays Dwight, a mild-mannered drifter who springs into action when his parents’ killer is released from prison. He quickly learns that revenge is a lot easier in the movies, and his difficulty in mastering the art of revenge is played for both laughs and thrills. “Blue Ruin” subverts the tropes of films like “Death Wish” at every turn, and Saulnier’s indie aesthetic is a perfect match for a story that aims this close to reality.
If there were any justice in the world, James Gray’s gorgeous period piece “The Immigrant” would be up for every Oscar next month, but producer Harvey Weinstein inexplicably dropped the film in just a handful of theaters last May and then opted against an Oscar marketing campaign. That shouldn’t stop you from seeing this gorgeous and heartbreaking film. As Ewa, a Polish immigrant who falls into a destructive love triangle with two very different cousins (Joaquin Phoenix and Jeremy Renner), Marion Cotillard exudes strength and vulnerability in equal parts, and her classic beauty is a perfect match for the old-world material.
2014 was a banner year for science in pop culture. Neil de Grasse Tyson’s “Cosmos” debuted on Fox, while prestige movies like “Interstellar” and “The Theory of Everything” featured scientists as action and romantic heroes, respectively. “Particle Fever,” a documentary about physicists working on the Large Hardon Collider in Geneva, got lost in the shuffle, but it was one of the best non-fiction films this year. Besides giving viewers a better explanation of the “God particle” experiments we all read about in the papers, the film also makes a subtle but impassioned argument in favor of funding for the sciences. Also, it’s a haven for good-time nerdery: the scene in which the physicists get drunk and rap about the Collider is an instant classic.
Here’s one you might actually hear about on Oscar night. The Polish submission for Best Foreign Film is one of the best-reviewed movies of the year, and with good reason. Anna, a young nun on the verge of taking her final vows in 1960s Poland, learns that her family were Jews during the Holocaust and begins to question her calling. She travels with her alcoholic aunt to visit her parents’ graves; think of it as a vacation in the secular world that may end up lasting longer. The film features fine performances, but its finest achievement may be visual. Director Pawl Pawlikowski shot the film in exquisite black-and-white, demonstrating a world in which the past has overtaken the present for primacy.
Bong Joon-Ho’s imaginative sci-fi popcorn flick is everything a blockbuster should be: funny, sharp, socially minded, and hugely entertaining. Of course, that makes it an outlier these days, which is why you may have missed “Snowpiercer” when it hit theaters in June. The film depicts a near-future dystopia in which the planet is covered in ice following a climate-change reversal strategy gone wrong. Earth’s only inhabitants live on a train that traverses the globe in a year. Of course, the poor folk live in the back and serve at the pleasure of the first-class passengers. In this way, the train becomes a microcosm of our contemporary social strata. Chris Evans (“Captain America”) gives a more nuanced take on the typical action hero, while Tilda Swinton steals the movie as a bucktoothed aristocrat tasked with keeping the workers in line.