With the long weekend upon us, unless you have plans to escape to an exotic wireless-less locale, this holiday is the ideal time to catch up on those critical darlings you still haven’t gotten around to watching yet. Rather than film-shame busy readers by broadcasting my movie expertise, I have instead compiled a short list of current films available on Netflix and OnDemand that are sure to confer tatse and credibility on the viewer the instant he or she hits play. In other words, I haven’t seen these either, but am planning to this weekend for purposes of self-edification. This Memorial Day, let’s all become more cultured, well-rounded movie watchers together.
For those who were caught off guard by Matthew McConaughey’s Oscar win, this official Sundance Film Festival offering, along with HBO’s acclaimed “True Detective” series, is the lesser-known pillar propping up his recent career resurgence and, some might say, reinvention. Be prepared, though, as “Mud” — which reads like a thriller but is described as a fable — promises a more mysterious and manipulative McConaughey than even “True Detective’s” cryptic Rust Cohle.
“20 Feet From Stardom” (2013)
This documentary raises a joyful noise unto the work of the under-appreciated back-up singers throughout the history of rock and soul. If you’re anything like me, though, you may have been avoiding it out of a reluctance to, once again, watch talented African-Americans — and women — literally upstaged by white men. Be heartened and download this doc as a testimony to their legacy.
“Muscle Shoals” (2013)
A similarly-themed movie to “20 Feet From Stardom,” complete with the joy and heartbreak and great tunes that accompany the history of black musicians in America. For a much more comprehensive assessment, read Andrew O’Hehir’s review from last year’s theatrical release of the film.
“Nymphomaniac I, II” (2013)
I’ll admit that I have actually seen this one — the first part, anyway. There is, as one might expect, a lot of sex in it. There is, shockingly, even more talking. The conversations about sex and how it relates to music and fishing between Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård) can be a bit dry and tedious. But after the first hour, even if the connections do not always seem genuine, you will feel better about yourself, in that you are not just watching for the titillation. The second part is presumably where Joe grows up and Charlotte Gainsbourg is the one having sex. So, if that’s still what you're interested in, skip Part I.
“Pain & Gain” (2013)
Okay, yes, this is a Michael Bay film; it is only a “critical darling” in that its Metacritic score has reached double digits. Do not search for Sundance laurels here. But as a true-crime tale with some wacky characters, “Pain & Gain” (reportedly) doesn’t take itself too seriously — which is exactly the type of environment in which Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson flourish. If the new “Transformers: Age of Extinction” trailer has you salivating, this may be the best possible way to quell the craving for Bay’s signature brand of cinema bombast.
Apparently, this film is about a whale that has killed people — not a CGI whale that attacks people in accordance with musical cues and Aristotelian story structure — but a truly misunderstood, mistreated, documentary-worthy whale that has been implicated in the death of more than one human being. For almost exactly that reason, I have not yet had the courage or emotional fortitude to sit down to it. Still, “Blackfish” remains in my Netflix queue because it has been recommended to me by a wide variety of people from very different backgrounds, which goes to show that the film is somehow universal in its poignancy and that most people I know are braver than I.