The Oscars do not matter.
Or rather, they only matter to the artists and producers whose films receive a measure of exposure thanks to the nominations. Because let’s be frank: The Oscars and other yearly awards orgies are the only reason you watched and pretended to like Birdman, an incredibly impressive exercise in stunt-filmmaking that is otherwise utterly uncaptivating in its storytelling and character development. To the audience, it’s the cinematic equivalent of watching somebody take a very difficult Algebra exam.
Though there is one reason for non-insiders to relish Oscar season: It grants film enthusiasts the opportunity to draw attention to the year’s truly great films, most of which are ignored by the geriatric cadre of industry types known as the Academy. So thanks to the popularity of our lists of the best films of the decade on Netflix and the best romantic movies on Netflix, here are the best movies of 2014 you can watch right now on the streaming service. Most of them weren’t nominated for Oscars, but all of them should have been. And I can’t think of too many better ways to enjoy this brutally frigid weekend inside than by curling up next to the humans and alcoholic beverages you love and watching these 8 films.
Starring Mark Duplass (Safety Not Guaranteed and “The League”) and Elizabeth Moss (“Mad Men”), The One I Love is one part romantic comedy and two parts “The Twilight Zone” — and that’s all I should give away about the plot. Unlike many “quirky” rom-coms, this film’s quirks develop organically out of the two leads’ relationship and rarely feel contrived.
The cover of Virunga, a documentary produced by Netflix that is nominated for Best Documentary, features a big gentle-looking gorilla. And the description mentions a struggle to save a wildlife preserve in the Congo where gorillas make their home, making it sound like something viewers might see on Animal Planet. Maybe Netflix didn’t believe viewers would watch to watch Virunga if it was described as an unflinching war documentary — because that’s exactly what it is.
Like most Lars Von Trier films, Nymphomaniac, which was released in two parts in theaters and on-demand in March of this year, is imperfect yet unforgettable. For viewers who appreciated the disturbing arthouse madness conjured by later-period Von Trier films like Dogville and Antichrist, Nymphomaniac is a must.
“Kicking people out of a church isn’t going to change the fact that there’s an oil boom.”
Thanks to the fracking boom, Williston, North Dakota has become a destination for tens of thousands of broken, down-on-their-luck men and women from all over the world. They arrive on the promise of $ 30-dollar-a-hour jobs working for drilling operations, only to find that jobs are scarcer than expected and available housing is virtually nonexistent.
Enter Reverend Jay Reinke, who began to let homeless new arrivals sleep in their cars in the church parking lot. If they don’t have cars? He lets them sleep on the floor of his church. His begins as a deeply inspiring story of what it truly means to help one’s neighbor, particularly in the face of a community and a local press that has shunned the newcomers as “trash” who “rape, pillage, and leave.”
Reinke himself, however, is not free of hypocrisy, as he becomes increasingly stretched thin in his efforts to save his makeshift congregation. And indeed, the most impressive thing about The Overnighters is that it never relies on easy narratives. Jesse Moss’s documentary is a rich and complex tragedy of how the fracking boom — which offered a dim light amid the recession’s devastation — nearly tore a community apart and threatened to destroy the one man who tried to help.
Ruben Ostlund’s Force Majeure deserves to win the Oscar for Best Documentary. But because it wasn’t even nominated, Paweł Pawlikowski’s Ida should receive the statuette instead. This beautifully-shot black-and-white film drama concerns a young woman raised in a convent who seeks out the truth about her deceased parents before becoming a nun.
Ida has all the trappings of a pretentious period piece — black-and-white photography, historically-accurate costumes and set design, Nazis — and yet it’s an undeniably powerful story that poses the question, “In a world gone mad, is it better to run from God or embrace Him?”
Like Ida, The Immigrant is another historical period piece that is far better than it has any right to be. Marion Cotillard plays a Polish immigrant who, after being raped on the boat to Ellis Island, is thus “shamed” and turned away from her family. She has little choice but to fall in with a pimp played by Joaquin Phoenix, though his cousin, played by Jeremy Renner, may pose a way out. The beauty of James Gray’s The Immigrant is, despite its movie star cast and careful approximation of the costumes and set dressings of the time period, it’s supremely relatable and human in its telling of a tragic love triangle.
I’ve already written plenty about Snowpiercer, the brilliant, bloody, and hilarious action epic about a train carrying humanity’s last survivors. A crowdpleaser that never panders, and an action blockbuster that never lets fisticuffs get in the way of gripping storytelling, Snowpiercer is damned near perfect.
Like one of the other best documentaries on Netflix, The Act of Killing, The Missing Picture tells the story of one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century — in this case the Cambodian genocide — through truly unique and powerful reenactments. The method of reenactment in The Missing Picture is even more original, as its narrator painstakingly creates handpainted figurines of his family and other members of his community in Cambodia where the killings took place.
The use of figurines is not some kind of quaint gimmick. Rather, they add even greater poignancy to the film, doubling not only as “characters” so-to-speak, but also as a way for the narrator, who spent hours carefully crafting them, to cope with his trauma.