Netflix recommendations

I recently discovered, a terrific third-party Netflix search tool; it will tell you in which of 24 countries you can stream a given film on Netflix. It also has a "last chance to watch" list of films expiring soon on Netflix in Canada (or any of the 24 countries).

Another good search tool is JustWatch, which covers numerous digital services including Netflix, iTunes, and TMNoD, and tells you on which services you can stream, rent, or buy a given film.

Here are a few recent feature films streamable on Netflix Canada, which I loved and can strongly recommend:

Their Finest — Of the three British films released last year relating to the Dunkirk evacuation, this is my favourite. Set in 1940, this comedy-drama stars Gemma Arterton as a writer in London hired by the government to script the women's dialogue in propaganda films.

Experimenter — Compelling and provocative biopic starring Peter Sarsgaard as Stanley Milgram, focusing on his "obedience to authority" experiments.

In Order of Disappearance — Witty thriller starring Stellan Skarsgård as a senior citizen who takes on an international drug gang.

White God — Part of the fun of this movie is imagining how it was made, knowing that all the canine sequences were done without any CGI effects; but the story is so compelling that it's easy to forget you are watching a movie.

Amanda Knox — Stylish but serious documentary looking at the murder of Meredith Kercher from various angles, with some fascinating interviews and wiretap evidence that had not previously been reported.

A Man Called Ove — An engaging Swedish comedy about a curmudgeon and how he got that way, nominated for two Oscars.

Divines — Highly energetic drama / crime-thriller about two teenage girls looking for opportunities to escape a dead-end life in the banlieue of Paris. Incredible acting by the two leads, who both won César Awards.

The Stanford Prison Experiment — I watched this three times and still found it rivetting; I'm not sure why, because you'd think it would be hemmed in by its close fidelity to the real-life events. Part of the reason it works is the hypernatural acting, by the whole cast but particularly Michael Angarano.

On Body and Soul — I was blown away when I saw this last year at TIFF; it went on to be nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. A subtle, funny, and surprising love story set in a slaughterhouse.

Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer — The English-language debut of Joseph Cedar (who directed Footnote); I've seen this twice and could watch it over and over. A suspenseful political drama, with smart, sharp dialogue and unconventional visuals. As you can tell from the subtitle, the film has an epic scope but gently satirical tone. The plot, though it may bring to mind a certain episode of M*A*S*H, is wholly original and touches on broad themes of loyalty and integrity, with terrific acting by Steve Buscemi, Lior Ashkenazi, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Michael Sheen, and particularly Richard Gere.

And two TV shows:

Travelers — This is now my favourite science-fiction TV series ever; it has twisty, engrossing plots, sharply written dialogue, great acting and cinematography. I was hooked from the first episode, maybe even from the first minute of the first episode.

Revolting Rhymes — Ostensibly for children, this two-episode animated British show (based on the book by Roald Dahl) is clever enough to entertain adults; I have watched it more than once. The first episode was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Animated Short category. The voice actors are all excellent, particularly Tamsin Greig (from the series Episodes) and Gemma Chan (from Humans and Crazy Rich Asians).

I sometimes hear Canadians complain that Netflix has a paltry selection here compared to in the US, but that is no longer true. According to a HuffPo article last month the number of titles on Netflix Canada is only about 4% less than Netflix USA.

Feel free to comment below with remarks about any of these recommendations, or if you want to recommend other great films streamable on Netflix Canada.

Top 25 narrative features, 2015

I posted my list of favourite docs yesterday. Here are my 25 favourite new feature-length narrative films watched for the first time in 2015.

1. Son of Saul [Saul fia] (László Nemes, 2015).

2. Magallanes (Salvador del Solar, 2015).

3. Room (Lenny Abrahamson, 2015).

4. Inside Out (Pete Docter, 2015).

5. Ex Machina (Alex Garland, 2015).

6. No Men Beyond This Point (Mark Sawers, 2015).

7. Into the Forest (Patricia Rozema, 2015).

8. A Copy of My Mind (Joko Anwar, 2015).

9. The Second Mother [Que horas ela volta?] (Anna Muylaert, 2015).

10. Our Loved Ones [Les Êtres chers] (Anne Émond, 2015).
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Top ten docs, 2015

These are my ten favourite feature documentaries seen in 2015.

1. Uyghurs: Prisoners of the Absurd (Patricio Henríquez, 2014)
2. The Look of Silence (Joshua Oppenheimer, 2014)
3. P.S. Jerusalem (Danae Elon, 2015)
4. Tim’s Vermeer (Teller, 2013)
5. Deep Web (Alex Winter, 2015)
6. Invention (Mark Lewis, 2015)
7. Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles (Chuck Workman, 2014)
8. The Visit (An Alien Encounter) (Michael Madsen, 2015)
9. GTFO: Get the F&#% Out (Shannon Sun-Higginson, 2014)
10. Sam Klemke’s Time Machine (Matthew Bate, 2015)

Honourable mentions (alphabetical order): Best of Enemies (Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville, 2015); Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (Alex Gibney, 2015); Hurricane (Andy Byatt and Cyril Barbançon, 2014); Jafar Panahi’s Taxi (Jafar Panahi, 2015); and Topophilia (Peter Bo Rappmund, 2015).

Movies watched in 2015

In 2015 I watched 366 feature-length films. I wanted to post the full list, but LiveJournal keeps telling me it’s too long. They break down as follows:
  • 57 documentaries
  • 2 “docufiction”
  • 307 narrative features

and by year of first release:
  • 1920s: 2
  • 1930s: 4
  • 1940s: 15
  • 1950s: 14
  • 1960s: 20
  • 1970s: 22
  • 1980s: 17
  • 1990s: 18
  • 2000s: 30
  • 2010: 1
  • 2011: 8
  • 2012: 8
  • 2013: 17
  • 2014: 69
  • 2015: 121

TIFF 2015 final report

I enjoyed the films seen in the second half of TIFF much more, in general, than those I reported on in my previous post.

Overall at TIFF this year I went to 29 screenings comprising 17 shorts, 3 TV episodes, and 26 features. (That includes one walkout.) I don't have time to write about everything; below are some comments on my favourites from what I saw in the last five days of TIFF (Sept. 16 to 20).

A Copy of My Mind (dir. Joko Anwar). I just loved this understated Indonesian film, where the first hour or so is just a slice of life of a young woman in Jakarta, working at a salon, buying monster-movie DVDs, getting a boyfriend, and so forth, and then it pivots as she accidentally gets involved in a high-level political conspiracy. Of course this general theme has done before, in for example North by Northwest, Polanski's Frantic, or even the underrated Kim Basinger thriller Cellular, but Anwar's film is nevertheless full of surprises. He takes the time to introduce his characters and the setting, before the intrigue begins, so even though it might sound implausible, everything in the film occurs organically. Shot largely handheld (with some scenes apparently even shot clandestinely on an iPhone), Jakarta looks gritty, even ugly, with occasional moments of cinematographic beauty.

11 Minutes (dir. Jerzy Skolimowski). A clever and dynamic film, 11 Minutes shows eight or so different stories taking place in Warsaw, all within the same 11-minute period. I love movies like this, that have a nonlinear timeline and give the audience a bit of a puzzle. While watching 11 Minutes, I was reminded of Mystery Train and Vantage Point, although 11 Minutes has a unique rhythm and unpredictable plot(s). This is a movie I want to re-watch and diagram, just to see the brilliance of the film's construction. The director's Q&A following the screening was also interesting and entertaining; I don't know whether the video is on YouTube but here's a photo on Instagram.

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TIFF 2015 half-way point report

At the midpoint of TIFF, I've been to 16 screenings, and am still waiting for a film I can get really excited about. Most of what I've seen so far has met my expectations but not exceeded them. Here are short comments about some of what I've seen. Links are to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine because TIFF tends to break all the links on its festival site within a few months.

Short Cuts Programme 7. This year TIFF merged the “Short Cuts Canada” and “Short Cuts International” sections, so that each screening has a mixture of shorts from Canada and other countries. All nine shorts in this programme are great; my favourites were “Exit/Entrance or Transumanar” by Federica Foglia, “The Boyfriend Game” by Alice Englert, and “Concerning the Bodyguard” by Kasra Farahani.

Son of Saul (dir. László Nemes). An intense, unrelenting look at the horror of Auschwitz. Stark and powerful.
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2014 movies

The Oscar nominations will be announced in a couple of hours. To be eligible in the Best Picture category, and in most of the other categories for feature-length films, a film needs to have played a “qualifying run” in Los Angeles in 2014. There are a few other conditions, and the producers need to formally submit an eligibility form. The Academy <a target="_blank" href="">has announced</a> that 323 features are in contention. Of course, most of them stand no chance of being nominated because there is no “For Your Consideration” campaign behind them. I went through <a target="_blank" href="">the reminder list [PDF]</a> of eligible films and noted which films on the list I had seen (the total came to 45) and which I still want to see (57). First, here's the 2014 Oscar-contending films I have seen, along with my rating of how much I liked the film.

movies seen (as of 2015-01-14)

rating from 0 to 10

Abuse of Weakness


Age of Uprising: The Legend of Michael Kohlhaas


Birdman or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance


The Blue Room




Dear White People


Devil’s Knot


Edge of Tomorrow


Finding Vivian Maier


A Five Star Life


Force Majeure






The Gambler


The German Doctor


God’s Pocket


Gone Girl


The Grand Budapest Hotel


How to Train Your Dragon 2


Human Capital


The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1




The Imitation Game


Inherent Vice




Jodorowsky’s Dune






The Lunchbox


A Most Wanted Man


Night Moves




Obvious Child


Only Lovers Left Alive


Rocks in My Pockets




St. Vincent


The Salt of the Earth


Stranger by the Lake


The Theory of Everything




Two Days, One Night


Under the Skin




Wild Tales


Here are the movies from the Oscar Reminder List that I have not seen but still want to:

Anita [documentary]

Antarctica: A Year on Ice [documentary]

Bad Words


The Best of Me

The Better Angels [Diane Kruger, Brit Marling]

Better Living Through Chemistry

Big Hero 6

Black or White



Cesar Chavez

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby

The Double

The Drop

The Equalizer

Fort Bliss


Frank Miller’s Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

The Good Lie

Guardians of the Galaxy

The Homesman [?]

I Origins

The Immigrant

In Secret

Kill the Messenger

The Lego Movie

Life of Crime

Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed


Low Down

Million Dollar Arm

A Million Ways to Die in the West

Minuscule – Valley of the Lost Ants

Miss Julie

A Most Violent Year

My Old Lady


The November Man



The Quiet Ones

The Railway Man

The Rover


The Skeleton Twins

Still Alice

3 Days to Kill

Top Five


The Two Faces of January

Veronica Mars

Walking With the Enemy



X-Men: Days of Future Past

Four trailers and a feature

My new year’s resolution is to keep track of what trailers I see at movie theatres. Today, before Inherent Vice (on which more later), the first trailer was a movie with Vince Vaughn and that guy, the aging British guy from In the Bedroom and Michael Clayton, whose name I can never remember. The movie takes place mostly in Berlin, but during the trailer I thought I recognized some Vancouver locations. For a Hollywood movie set in Berlin, they wouldn’t shoot it in Vancouver, would they? Maybe Montreal. Chris Pine is also in the movie, there’s a funny gag involving wheelbarrows, and then at the end of the trailer, Vince Vaughn is on the plane, he’s upgraded to business class, and then a soldier in uniform walks past, and he apologizes for not giving up his seat “because this is the first time I’ve ever been upgraded”. I’m sure I’ve heard that joke before, but I can’t remember where. Maybe I’d seen this particular trailer? Or some stand-up comic had a similar bit in his routine? Or did Larry David say it? It sounds like something from Curb Your Enthusiasm, maybe that was it.

The second trailer was for Hot Tub Time Machine 2, which looks pretty silly, but I’m sure I’ll still see it because I have a weakness for any time-travel movie.

The third trailer was a con-artist movie with Will Smith and Denise Richards, which looks pretty good although just from the trailer I can sense what the twist ending will be. At the start (of the trailer, and presumably of the movie) she is totally hopeless, then he trains her how to pull a con, and so forth. I imagine that at the end, it will turn out that all along, even before we first see her, she was actually an expert con-artist and she was the one conning Will Smith. So if I’m right, then sorry for spoiling the movie for you, but I couldn’t really put a spoiler warning since I don’t know for sure if I’m right about that. I hope I’m wrong, but even if that is the twist ending I bet I’ll like this movie. The title is Focus, but that’s weird because I distinctly remember a William H. Macy movie with that title, a few years ago, and I thought there was some formalized system in Hollywood where the studios don’t repeat each other’s movie titles.

The fourth (and final) trailer, it began with a ship that has a run-in with a monster: a big whale or leviathan. It looked like maybe it would be an Anaconda-like thing, a campy horror-comedy, but then cut to title: “From Academy Award-winning director Ron Howard”, so we know this is going to be something with the pretense of true heft, and I was thinking, this isn’t Moby-Dick, is it? Has Hollywood ever done a movie of Moby-Dick? I never read it, but isn’t the novel supposed to be long and ponderous? But no, Moby-Dick is famous for the white whale, and this whale was very dark in colour. So then we get all sorts of scenes of disaster at sea, and then the text, “comes one of the greatest true stories ever told”. Okay, so definitely not Moby-Dick. And then, the text on screen: “Moby Dick”. What? I’m just surprised I hadn’t heard that this movie was coming out. And since when is Moby-Dick considered a true story? Then there’s another shot of the whale and this time it does look white-ish. But then at the end of the trailer, it says “In the Heart of the Sea”. Huh? I thought the movie was called Moby Dick. Why wouldn’t you use that title? In the Heart of the Sea just sounds like one of those boring last-minute title changes that can kill a movie, like Playing by Heart or Edge of Tomorrow.

As for the feature, it was bad. To begin with, there’s this narration, which always strikes me as a bit lazy in movies adapted from novels, just to have some voice-over of the best passages from the novel, and here, it seemed pretty jarring to have the voice-over read by Kristen Chenoweth (I know it wasn’t actually Kristen Chenoweth, but it sure sounded like her), when the novel was written by a man. Anyway the narration never gelled with the action. Much of Pynchon’s dialogue, while I’m sure it seemed clever on the page, was just ridiculous when you hear characters speaking it. But then I started thinking, maybe there’s one level of irony here that I’m failing to appreciate, maybe P.T. Anderson is parodying himself, or possibly parodying filmmakers who emulate him. So for example, there’s a bit early on where a character is described as “technically Jewish but wants to be a Nazi”. Is that line supposed to be hilarious? Or is the idea, that a screenwriter might think the line is hilarious, supposed to be hilarious? I have an easier time believing the audience is intended to laugh at the latter level of irony, not the former. For a time I really thought the movie was on that level, but then, sometime at the 90-minute mark when the film is barely half over, I realized that the whole thing is so boring and drawn out, the characters’ weird names (Penny Kimball, Japonica Fenway) not clever but merely precious, that no irony was intended, I mean beyond the obvious irony. It isn’t P.T. Anderson parodying his own style, it’s P.T. Anderson employing his own style for material not suited to it, with terrible results.

VIFF 2014 top ten

My experience at the Vancouver International Film Festival this year was terrific; 2014 is already an amazing year for world cinema, as far as I'm concerned. At VIFF I saw 54 feature-length films and 11 shorts. (That might seem like a lot, but there were more than 150 other feature films at VIFF that I did not see!) Kudos to the festival programmers for an excellent selection.

Here are my top ten:

1. The Fool [Дурак] (dir. Юрий Быков, Russia). A perfect movie about a powerless hero frustrated by the indifference and corruption of those in power. The plot synopsis of this film sounds contrived, but the movie unfolds with disturbing plausibility. The film had me transfixed, the moral stakes keep rising as Dima Nikitin (the ironically titular “fool”) tries to persuade the civic leaders to save 820 lives by evacuating a building, even though no alternate accommodations are available. There are some obvious analogies to environmental issues like climate change (indeed, this movie could have been titled “An Inconvenient Truth” if that title was not already taken) or more directly, the mall collapse in Elliot Lake, Ontario, a couple of years ago. Artyom Bystrov deservedly won the best actor prize at the Locarno Film Festival, and all of the supporting performances are also excellent, especially the unforgettable mayor who goes by the nickname “Mama”. The Fool (and not Leviathan, which I found very disappointing) ought to be the Russian film everyone is talking about this year. This film has so many nice touches and surprises, I am keen to seek out Yuri Bykov's previous work.

2. Still Life (dir. Uberto Pasolini, UK/Italy). The tour-de-force performance by veteran character actor Eddie Marsan ought to win an Academy Award. For some reason, Marsan has never even been nominated for a BAFTA. Still Life was the first movie I saw at VIFF this year (during the press screenings) and it set the bar incredibly high. Fascinating and heart-breaking, an absolute gem.

3. Winter Sleep [Kış Uykusu] (dir. Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey/France/Germany). The festival circuit this year is marked by filmgoers simultaneously bragging and complaining about having seen a “three-hour Turkish movie”. It won the Palme d'Or and may well get two or three Oscar nominations; in my opinion deservedly so. Despite its length Winter Sleep is not boring at all, every minute has something to hold your eye and your mind. This film has the most remarkable lighting I have ever seen in a digitally-shot movie, outdoor scenes of mountains and snow and indoor scenes of warm hearths. I am not generally a fan of long movies (I’ve even been known to fall asleep) but at Winter Sleep I did not want it to end, and I intend to watch it again when it is theatrically released.

4. In Order of Disappearance [Kraftidioten] (dir. Hans Petter Moland, Norway/Sweden/Denmark). On my top ten list for 2010, Moland’s previous film A Somewhat Gentle Man was number 6. In Order of Disappearance is equally good. (The great Stellan Skarsgård stars in both films.) Hans Petter Moland is another director whose previous films I need to seek out. In Order of Disappearance is a crime thriller about an ordinary man who, having just won citizen of the year, sets out on a murderous rampage against a dangerous gang of drug dealers.

5. 24 Days [24 jours, la vérité sur l'affaire Ilan Halimi] (dir. Alexandre Arcady, France). A harrowing dramatization of the kidnapping in Paris of Jewish cell-phone-store manager Ilan Halimi, 24 Days pulls no punches. Great performances by Zabou Breitman and Pascal Elbé as Ilan’s parents, and Jacques Gamblin as the police commandant heading the investigation.

6. Force Majeure [Turist] (dir. Ruben Östlund, Sweden/Denmark/Norway). This is the movie I was most looking forward to at VIFF, because of how great Ruben Östlund’s previous film (Play) was (#5 on my top 10 of 2011). Although not as unconventional as Play, Force Majeure is a terrific movie that asks whether the split-second decision you make in a crisis is a truer reflection of your character than your behaviour the rest of the time. Reminded me in a way of The Loneliest Planet.

7. Haemoo (dir. Shim Sungbo, South Korea). Based on a tragedy that occurred in 1998, Haemoo (Korean for “sea mist”) is a gripping, tense film that takes place almost entirely on a fishing trawler that is smuggling migrants from China. The action sequences are so compelling that it’s hard to believe Shim Sung Bo is a first-time director. This film could be a surprise nominee for the Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar this year.

8. The Infinite Man (dir. Hugh Sullivan, Australia). I am an aficionado of time-travel movies, and this is the best I’ve seen since Primer. With just three actors, The Infinite Man is endearing, entertaining, and funny, while still rigorously adhering to its time-travel logic. At least I think it does; I’ll want one more viewing to make sure! The film has played numerous festivals in the US, Australia, and elsewhere, and has various reviews online as well as some feature articles (e.g. search), but I can’t find any spoiler-heavy analysis and discussion by science-fiction nerds, which is what this film really calls out for. (See, for example, the very serious dissections at Temporal Anomalies in Time Travel Movies.) But you don’t need to be a science-fiction nerd to like this film. It also works as a romantic comedy, which can be appreciated without understanding all the details of the complex plot.

9. Class Enemy [Razredni sovražnik] (dir. Rok Biček, Slovenia). Of the few Slovenian films I have seen over the years, this one is the best. Class Enemy is one of a few teacher/student films that played at VIFF 2014 (including the excellent Behavior, which would have been on this list except that I saw it at TIFF, not VIFF). Class Enemy begins with a popular high-school teacher going on mat leave, to be replaced by a teacher whose style is rather more hard-edged and traditional. Eventually, due to plot developments that I won’t spoil, the students in his homeroom class mount a rebellion against him. The film is an engrossing drama that has won at least a dozen awards at various European film festivals. It would make a good double bill with Monsieur Lazhar.

10. Human Capital [Il capitale umano] (dir. Paolo Virzì, Italy/France). I loved this film, which has an unconventional, tripartite narrative structure along the lines of Mystery Train or Congorama, two of my all-time favourite films. An Italian film based on an American novel, Human Capital is likeable enough to have an outside chance at an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film.

Honourable mentions (alphabetically): Elephant Song (dir. Charles Binamé); Field of Dogs [Onirica - Psie Pole] (dir. Lech Majewski); Hope and Wire: Part 1 (dir. Gaylene Preston); Infinitely Polar Bear (dir. Maya Forbes); The Other One: The Long, Strange Trip of Bob Weir (dir. Mike Fleiss); The Salt of the Earth [Le Sel de la Terre] (dirs. Wim Wenders, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado); Sorrow and Joy [Sorg og glæde] (dir. Nils Malmros); Two Step (dir. Alex R. Johnson); Violent (dir. Andrew Huculiak); You’re Sleeping Nicole [Tu dors Nicole] (dir. Stéphane Lafleur); and Zero Motivation [אפס ביחסי אנוש] (dir. Talya Lavie).

I walked out of just one film (Maps to the Stars) and fell asleep during only three (Nuoc 2030, Goodbye to Language 3D, and We Come as Friends).

I am still puzzling about why The Vancouver Asahi won the main audience award at VIFF. I thought the film was just okay; it was interesting to see the reproduction of 1930s-era Vancouver but it did not look authentic, and the film was much too lengthy and slow-paced. There were many better films at VIFF. Most of the other winners of VIFF awards (listed here) I did not see.

TIFF 2014 top ten

Before VIFF starts I want to say something about what I saw at TIFF. Of the 26 screenings I attended there, most were excellent. Here's my top ten.

1. Who Am I–No System Is Safe [Who Am I - Kein System ist sicher] (dir. Baran bo Odar, Germany)
2. The Dark Horse (dir. James Napier Robertson, New Zealand)
3. Wild Tales [Relatos salvajes] (dir. Damián Szifrón, Argentina/Spain)
4. Behavior [Conducta] (dir. Ernesto Daranas, Cuba)
5. The Tribe [Плем'я] (dir. Мирослав Слабошпицький, Ukraine)
6. The Imitation Game (dir. Morten Tyldum, USA/UK)
7. Rosewater (dir. Jon Stewart, USA)
8. The Keeping Room (dir. Daniel Barber, USA)
9. Murder in Pacot [Meurtre à Pacot] (dir. Raoul Peck, Haiti/France/Norway)
10. A Hard Day [Kkeut-kka-ji-gan-da] (dir. Kim Seong-hun, South Korea)

About those ten, I won't say too much; they all had great acting and a gripping story. (That's what I look for in movies.) The Imitation Game will get a huge release and a few Oscar nominations; it won the People's Choice Award, so is now one of the favourites to get Best Picture. Wild Tales will get a release in North America but you'll have to look for it. It should also get an Oscar nomination in the Foreign Language category. Wild Tales and Behavior are both at VIFF. Rosewater also will get a North American release; The Keeping Room is an indie American movie; I hope it gets a theatrical release but may slip under the radar, you have to watch out for it. For descriptions and so forth, follow the links I provided to, which will give links to the official TIFF programme note, to IMDb, maybe a trailer, and so on. Or, just Google the film title and director.