Countless new titles come and go every month in Netflix’s massive on-demand library of movies and television shows. Due to the in-depth recommendation algorithm, it can be hard to find movies that don’t automatically populate in your queues. Because of this, there are hundreds of fantastic titles that fly under the radar. That’s where I come in. Here are some of the best films you can find on Netflix Instant right now that you may not already be familiar with.
Prince Avalanche (David Gordon Green, 2013)
While it didn’t quite make my list of the best films of 2013, Prince Avalanche was certainly a pleasant surprise. It’s a bit of a return to form for director David Gordon Green, who for a while there seemed to be only interested in making absurdist stoner comedies (Pineapple Express, Your Highness). With two wonderful, low-key performances from Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch, the film follows two oddballs over the course of a summer as they repaint traffic lines along a highway decimated by a wildfire. Equal parts funny and touching, Prince Avalanche is a character-driven buddy movie brimming with beauty and soul.
Kill List (Ben Wheatley, 2011)
Kill List is a genre-bending thriller that kept me guessing all the way up to the disturbing, unforgettable climax. Hailing from the United Kingdom, the film straddles the line between crime drama and thriller, with a heavy dose of horror sensibilities. After a botched job eight months before, two contract killers step back into the world of underground crime for a new assignment that sends them into a bizarre world neither of them were expecting. I will warn you that the movie is extremely violent and a bit of a slow-burner, but it never sacrifices tension or character for story points. Let yourself be enveloped by the film’s moody atmosphere and you’ll be surprised by the places it goes.
Barton Fink (Joel and Ethan Coen, 1991)
The Coen Brothers may be a household name, but Barton Fink is their most criminally underrated film. It deserves a spot on this list by virtue of the fact that, in the public eye at least, it lives in the shadow of movies like The Big Lebowski, No Country For Old Men and Fargo. The Coen’s trademark dark humor is on full display here, but what separates it from some of their other work is that it defies categorization. Is it a period piece? Surreal comedy? Film noir? It’s all of those things and so much more. Not everyone will be on board with its enigmatic nature, but Barton Fink is a truly original masterpiece from two of America’s most gifted filmmakers.
Holy Motors (Leos Carax, 2012)
Holy Motors is a visual roller coaster, plain and simple. If you attempt to put together all of the pieces and construct a traditional narrative, you’ll spend hours bashing your head against the wall. It’s a celebration of cinema’s unique ability to stimulate our imaginations and tell stories nobody could have tackled before. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t really “get it” in the traditional sense, but it’s impossible to deny the effect it had on me. By the time the credits roll, I can’t guarantee you’ll be satisfied. However, I can promise you that this is one of the most bizarre, visceral movies I’ve ever seen, and if you’re capable of suspending whatever preconceived notions you carry about what a movie should do, you’ll be treated to a genuinely unique experience.
Life During Wartime (Todd Solondz, 2009)
I want to preface this endorsement by saying that while Life During Wartime can be viewed on its own, I think it’s best experienced as a companion piece to Solondz’ 1998 film Happiness. The latter is considered by most to be the director’s best work, but Life During Wartime is a potent continuation of that world, albeit with different actors and a new setting. The film takes place in Florida and follows three sisters and their families, who are all miserable in their own unique, sincere way. The dark subject matter juxtaposed against the sunshine and palm trees of southern Florida makes for an intriguing dynamic. This one is only for you if you like your comedy as black as your coffee.
eXistenZ (David Cronenberg, 1999)
Those familiar with Cronenberg’s brand of body horror will feel right at home watching this grotesque sci-fi romp. eXistenZ takes place in the near future, where video games have become the defining form of escapism. However, when a new gaming system that allows the user to organically enter a simulated world appears on the market, the lines between reality and fantasy become blurred. The movie has a certain playfulness to it working underneath the disorienting and surreal exterior. Working from a solid premise and a clever script, eXistenZ is one of my favorite science fiction flicks of all time.
The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer, 2012)
The biggest robbery of this year’s Academy Awards ceremony was the Best Documentary prize. The Act of Killing is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, but it’s also one of the most disturbing and confrontational documentaries of all time. It’s the living history of unspeakable horrors as told and experienced by the perpetrators themselves. The film follows Anwar Congo and his friends, who are celebrated and revered as heroes in their home country of Indonesia, despite the fact they are all mass murderers. Director Joshua Oppenheimer gives Congo and company the opportunity to recreate their exploits, however they see fit, through the lens of cinema. The subject matter is very difficult to stomach, but as the narrative progresses we finally start to see the toll all of these atrocities have taken on the men responsible. It’s bizarre, sick, repulsive, and relentless. But it’s also an enlightening and incredibly important exploration of the dark side of human nature.
Other overlooked movies on Instant Watch worth your time: Drinking Buddies, the Hatchet series, The Wall, Simon Killer, Upstream Color, Beyond the Black Rainbow, I Saw the Devil.