More often than not, as I’ve discussed in previous posts, I use Netflix as a means to obtaining background noise when my husband isn’t at home. I cook dinner, clean house, and let my mind melt into a puddle at the end of a long day as long-familiar episodes of Friends, The Office, Parks & Rec, 30 Rock, and/or Gossip Girl play on loop on my mantel.
But every once in awhile, I use Netflix in the way it’s meant to be used. I scroll through the nearly endless lists of movies and documentaries until one strikes my fancy. This method of selection sometimes ends in horror and regret, like the time we tried to watch Children of the Revolution–trust me, just don’t–but oftentimes we end up discovering real gems. Here are the top 10 obscure-ish movies you should watch on Netflix.
Disclaimer: Some of these movies might have been removed from Netflix since I watched them last. If that’s the case, I apologize, but you should still track every last one of these movies down and watch them!
1. Liberal Arts (PG-13)
Liberal Arts, starring Josh Radnor and the Olsen twins’ younger sister Elizabeth, follows Jesse, a college admissions advisor in NYC as he travels back to his alma mater, a small liberal arts college in rural Ohio, for his favorite professor’s retirement party. While there, he makes a connection with Zibby, a current student at the school. Jesse, unsatisfied with his current lot in life, longs for his simpler days as a student, while Zibby just wants to grow up.
I love this movie, and I’ve ended up watching it multiple times (shocking, when it comes to me, hmm?). It was one of those that made me feel angry I hadn’t thought of the idea first. It was that good.
“Nobody feels like an adult. It’s the world’s dirty secret.”
“Guilt before we act is called morality.”
“Spending most of your time with an 1,100-page book tends to put a dent in your social life.”
“Don’t be a genius who dies young. Be one who dies old. Being old is cool. Grow old, and die old. It’s a better arc.”
Recommended for graduates of small liberal arts colleges (ahem, like yours truly). Also, I’ve had people who were fond of my first novel, The Partition of Africa, say they particularly liked this film.
2. Conception (R)
Conception, which as I’m sure you can probably guess is not for youngsters whatsoever, is a non-linear story that shows nine couples on the night of conception. Some couples are trying for a baby, but some are most definitely not. While it might delve into social or political issues that you’re not comfortable with, this film does a great job of showing just how complicated and multi-faceted the seemingly simple act of creating a baby can be.
I really enjoyed this movie. I love movies that follow several seemingly unconnected storylines, only to tie everything together in the end. However as a fair warning for those who might have more sensitive tastes, there is a lot of swearing present in this film, and obviously sexual content too, including brief nudity. If you think you might be uncomfortable, look up the specifics behind the rating.
“Laziness breeds efficiency. It’s because of the lazy people that we have the remote control, automatic transmission, go-gurt. All the handiwork of the lazies.”
Recommended for people who enjoy fertility humor, and also those who enjoy multi-story movies like Love Actually or Valentine’s Day.
3. Chef (R)
After unwittingly starting a flame war with an anonymous online food blogger and battling his boss for creative control, Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) quits his prestigious chef’s position and tries to figure out what’s next. In a strange series of events, he ends up joining forces with his ex-wife (Sofia Vergara) and heretofore neglected son (Emjay Anthony) to reignite his passion for cooking . . . and for life.
This film does a wonderful job of exploring aspects of a creative lifestyle that will benefit more than just chefs. Professional behavior, accepting criticism, social media presence, work-life balance, creative control, and passionate living can be discussed ad nauseum, but I doubt they can be shown more effectively than right here in this film.
“I may not do everything great in my life, but I’m good at this. I manage to touch people’s lives with what I do and I want to share this with you.”
“You’re trending, bro.”
Recommended for fans of The Avengers movies (in addition to Jon Favreau, Scarlett Johansson and Robert Downey Jr. play small parts!) and, honestly? The Marshall Plan. Latino cuisine on a food truck? Come on. 🙂 Full disclosure, there is a lot of language in this movie–a lot–so if you’re sensitive to that, you might want to skip this one.
4. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (R)
When his wife uses the Earth’s impending doom as an excuse to leave him, insurance salesman Dodge (Steve Carrell) is left to spend what little time is left on his own. But when his neighbor Penny (Keira Knightley) belatedly delivers a letter from his old girlfriend, the one who got away, he decides he has to try to find her before it’s too late.
I was expecting existential satire, and perhaps on one level that’s what I received. On the other hand, though, this film shows that even when everything is about to end and nothing really matters . . . things still matter. Things like morality, and responsibility, and love. Spoiler alert: the experts weren’t wrong and no one saves the day. Earth does explode at the end of the movie. So curl up with a bowl of ice cream and a huge box of tissues and have a good cathartic cry.
Dodge: “What about your parents?”
Penny: “They’re romantics. They understand.”
“It couldn’t have happened any other way. It had to happen now.”
“It’s the end of the world, and I’m still 15 minutes late.”
Recommended for fans of literary fiction, apocalyptic films, and dark humor. Seriously. Dark. Don’t be turned off by the first part of the movie, which pictures among other things kids drinking martinis and middle class yuppies shooting heroin and engaging in, shall we say, bacchanalian behavior. Don’t worry–Dodge is just as disgusted as you will be. 🙂
5. In A World . . . (R)
A vocal coach (Lake Bell) competes against her own father and his protege for the job of a lifetime narrating the trailer for the next predicted global movie sensation.
This movie has all my favorite things: family issues, communication problems, second chances, sweet budding romance, a victorious underdog, and redemptive love.
Stacy: I’ve been interviewing for about ten months.
Carol: And why do you think that is?
Stacy: Because I sound like a sexy baby.
The Russian community is really tight.
Recommended for everyone, really, because it’s that great. (Unless you don’t like swearing, in which case this probably won’t make you happy.)
6. Outsourced (PG-13)
When the American call center he works for closes down so the company can outsource operations to India, Todd (Josh Hamilton) is sent to Mumbai to train his new counterpart. While initially baffled and culture shocked, Todd begins to adapt to his new surroundings and, with the help of his coworkers, appreciate the Indian way of life.
Outsourced is cute, unexpected, and memorable. I’ve only watched it the one time, but it’s definitely a guaranteed feel-good flick!
Asha can do anything.
A holiday in Goa.
Recommended for those who enjoy office humor and are interested in other cultures especially, but really I think anyone would enjoy this film.
7. Showrunners: The Art of Running a TV Show (NR)
This documentary focuses on the people behind the scenes of our favorite TV shows, the real life Liz Lemons: the showrunners. Featuring J.J. Abrams, Joss Whedon, and many more well-knowns, you will walk away from this feeling a whole new level of appreciation for the backstagers of show business. I wouldn’t recommend for younger ears, since the interviews included are rather candid and involve a lot of swearing, but otherwise I think anyone who watches television should check this title out.
8. Just About Famous (NR)
For me, the best documentaries are those that focus on topics that are either oddly specific or absolutely bizarre. Just About Famous is both. This film delves into the lives of celebrity impersonators, centering mostly on a yearly impersonator convention. The culture and impact of this niche community is interesting and completely unexpected. The organization and editing of the film itself is a little loose for my tastes–there’s no narrative, just raw footage stitched together at random–but this is an eye-opening, entertaining film. Recommended for everyone, really. I don’t remember any inappropriate content.
9. The Search for General Tso (NR)
This film is ostensibly about the origins of a Chinese-American dish called General Tso’s Chicken, but delves deeply into early Chinese immigration, Chinese-American culture, and a brief history of the folk hero who was General Tso. A must-watch for anyone who’s ever wondered exactly who General Tso was, and why he was special enough to have a take-out dish named after him.
10. Side By Side (NR)
While Keanu Reeves’ interviewing skills are questionable, I still found this documentary about the emergence of digital cinematography absolutely riveting. It was enough to elicit a passionate response out of me, at least. Like with Showrunners, this is–as one reviewer on the poster says–“essential viewing for movie fans.” If you enjoy movies, you need to watch this. You’ll come away with a whole new appreciation for the art of filmmaking and cinematography.