American Pie (1999–2006)
For the nostalgic delectation of pre-millennials, Netflix serves up five slices of the ribald American Pie sex-comedy franchise. The cringe-inducing embarrassments meted out to Jim (Jason Biggs) by his over-helpful dad (Eugene Levy) in American Pie and American Pie 2 are the series’ funniest moments.
Spanning 1955 through 1980, Martin Scorsese’s fluid, violent New York crime classic, based on Nicholas Pileggi’s non-fiction book Wiseguy, stars Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Ray Liotta, the latter as mobster-turned-FBI-informant Henry Hill. Scorsese’s set pieces—including the murder and burial of Billy Batts (Frank Vincent) and the hugely influential “Copacabana shot”—are indelible.
Kill Bill Vol. 1 and 2 (2003–04)
Quentin Tarantino’s fourth and fifth films comprise a diptych inspired by old martial arts and grind-house movies. Uma Thurman stars as Beatrix Kiddo, aka The Bride, a former hitwoman seeking revenge on her ex-lover, Bill (David Carradine), and his Deadly Viper Assassination Squad for trying to kill her and her unborn baby. Co-starring Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, Michael Madsen, and Darryl Hannah, Kill Bill has dated more than early Tarantinos like Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Pulp Fiction (1994), but it’s still entertaining.
Meet the Parents (2000) and Meet the Fockers (2004)
The droll generational comedy Meet the Parents pitches Jewish nurse Gaylord “Greg” Focker (Ben Stiller) against his prospective father-in-law, macho WASP ex-CIA man Jack Byrnes (Robert De Niro); Teri Polo plays Greg’s fiancée Pam and Blythe Danner is Jack’s wife Dina. Meet the Fockers throws Greg’s liberal parents (Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand) and a baby into the mix.
Men in Black (1997)
One of the unlikeliest sci-fi summer blockbusters of its era, Barry Sonnenfeld’s parodic comedy Men in Black paired Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith as agents charged with policing earthbound aliens in New York. It is is all about character: Jones is the unsmiling curmudgeon; Smith is cool and irreverent. Linda Fiorentino and Vincent D’Onofrio co-star. Aliens were played by, among others, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Sylvester Stallone, Dionne Warwick, Danny DeVito, Isaac Mizrahi, and Newt Gingrich.
The Hurt Locker (2008)
Kathryn Bigelow’s tense, psychologically probing Iraq War film focuses on the fraught interactions between the gung-ho leader (Jeremy Renner) and his two subordinates (Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty) in a Baghdad-based American bomb tech (or disposal) unit constantly plagued by improvised explosive devices. Ralph Fiennes co-stars as the leader of a group of British mercenaries. The Hurt Locker remains the only film helmed by a woman to win the Best Picture and Best Director Oscars.
Altered Carbon Season 1
Fans of Blade Runner (1982), The Matrix (1999), and Electric Dreams should love this Netflix original: an intricate, noirish, sci-fi 10-parter based on a Richard Morgan novel. It anticipates that, in the future, the extremely rich will be able to live forever by downloading their consciousnesses into different bodies. The plot revolves about a Rip Van Winkle-like hard-boiled detective (first played by Joel Kinnaman, later by Will Yun Lee), who wakes from a 250-year sleep to conduct a murder investigation.
On Body and Soul (2017)
Hungarian writer-director Ildikó Enyedi (My Twentieth Century (1989)) won the Golden Bear at the Berlinale with her return film, On Body and Soul, which has also been nominated for the Best Foreign Language Oscar. An unconventional drama, as brutal as it is poetic, it depicts the relationship between two lonely misfits working at a slaughterhouse—CEO Endre (Géza Morcsányi) and Maria (Alexandra Borbély), the shy new quality inspector, who has signs of autism. So tentative is the romance between the two, they have no option but to meet in their dreams—as deer.
Valor Season 1
This CW series about an elite unit of helicopter pilots who are sent on clandestine ops landed at the same time as CBS’s SEAL Team and NBC’s The Brave, and critics were divided which one was best. Though it is spartan-looking, Valor had the advantage of a doughty female protagonist (Christina Ochoa) and a compelling backstory involving the cover-up of a failed mission.
Queer Eye Season 1
Bravo to Netflix for bringing back Bravo’s Queer Eye for the Straight Guy / Queer Eye (2003–07). The concept is simple: Five gay men, gifted at grooming and general deportment, offer lifestyle tips to straight guys, usually inadequate when it comes to female-friendly lifestyle choices. It will be interesting to see if QE tweaks the formula this time.
Seeing Allred (2018)
Fresh from the Sundance Film Festival, Seeing Allred is a full-throttle study of the Californian attorney Gloria Allred, whose clients have included women allegedly drugged, assaulted, and raped by Bill Cosby; Summer Zervos, an Apprentice candidate who claims Donald Trump aggressively harassed her; and women who said Alabama senatorial candidate Roy Moore assaulted them. Directed by Sophie Sartain and Roberta Grossman, the doc doesn’t skimp on relaying the harrowing personal ordeals that made Allred such a fierce gender-equality advocate. One of the must-sees of the moment.
The Trader (Sovdagari) (2018)
This short Georgian documentary follows a traveling salesman, Gela, who drives from village to village in the Caucasus country selling clothes, household items, and toys out of the back of his minibus. The hard currency he seeks is potatoes, especially “super potatoes”—much more valuable than money in his neck of the woods. Americans not used to a hardscrabble existence would do well to check out this original import.
Greenhouse Academy Season 2
Netflix has scheduled 12 new half-hour episodes of the tween hit, based on an Israeli series, about siblings (Ariel Mortman and Finn Roberts) at an elite SoCal boarding school whose rival dorms join forces to thwart a plot to destroy the planet. Though the first series contained dashes of humor, it was mostly played straight, making it all the more involving for the target audience.
Everything Sucks! Season 1
A 10-part, half-hour coming-of-age-dramedy series, the Netflix original Everything Sucks! spirals back into the dim and distant past. The year is 1996 and the place is Boring High School, Oregon, where the cooler-than-thou and nerdy outsiders of the A.V. and drama clubs band together to make a movie. The leads are Peyton Kennedy and Jahi Winston. Mercifully, it couldn’t sound less like Glee.
As the American Civil War draws to a close, President Abraham Lincoln fights to make law his 1863 Emancipation Proclamation and to ensure the passing of the 13th Amendment, ensuring that freedmen will not be re-enslaved. One of Steven Spielberg’s least ballyhooed films is one of his finest: a tense political drama that elicits all of Lincoln’s guile and statecraft in his persuading of Republicans and “lame duck” Democrats to rally to his cause. Daniel Day-Lewis won the Best Actor for his definitive portrayal of Lincoln. Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Hal Holbrook, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt co-star.
In the 2052 techtropolis Berlin, a mute, formerly violent bartender (Alexander Skarsgård) risks his life to find his missing girlfriend (Seyneb Saleh); his adversaries are rogue US army surgeons played by Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux. Director Duncan Jones has said the sci-fi thriller is a spiritual sequel to his 2009 Moon, so therefore Blade Runner is Mute’s godfather.
Seven Seconds Season 1
A black teenager in Jersey City is run over by a white cop, sparking a cover-up and a surge in racial tensions. The premise superficially recalls Bonfire of the Vanities, but this timely Netflix original series sounds infinitely more trenchant and urgent than Brian De Palma’s disastrous 1990 satire. The prognosis on this Netflix original 10-parter is strong.
Morgan Neville (20 Feet From Stardom (2014)) is the brains behind this eight-part documentary series, which follows Momofuku restaurant group founder David Chang on a global excursion to analyze the value of food as a unifying force across cultures. Guests include Jimmy Kimmel, chefs Roy Choi and Nina Compton, Ali Wong, and Eric Wareheim.