With so many titles to choose from, Netflix Instant's library can be overwhelming. So we offer this biweekly column as a tool to cut through the clutter by highlighting some now streaming titles that pair nicely with the latest theatrical releases.
Looking to Django Unchained, Les Misérables and West of Memphis for inspiration, we've pulled together a selection of violent adventures, ambitious epics, and eye-opening documentaries that you can enjoy from the comfort of home.
Jaime Foxx stars as a freed slave turned bounty hunter searching for his wife on the brutal plantations of the pre-Civil War south. Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson co-star; Quentin Tarantino directs.
Penned by Tarantino, this gruesome and audacious revenge tale pulls inspiration from Blaxploitation and spaghetti westerns. You can indulge in a bit of both with the picks below.
Jackie Brown (1997) Starring Blaxploitation's badass poster girl Pam Grier, this Tarantino thriller centers on a sassy flight attendant who is a part-time smuggler. But when the cops catch on to her criminal sideline, they force her to aid their investigation. But Jackie's got plans of her own. Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Keaton, and Robert De Niro co-star; Tarantino directs.
Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) Helmed by Italian filmmaker Sergio Leone, this sprawling epic is a classic spaghetti western. Henry Fonda stars as a lethal gun for hire tasked with using deadly force to prevent anyone from derailing the plans of powerful industrialist. But Frank's forced to fight for his life when a woman he's made a widow seeks revenge by hiring a pair of gruesome gunmen of her own. Claudia Cardinale, Charles Bronson and Jason Robards star.
The Mercenary (1968) Last but not least is this lesser-known spaghetti western, long loved by connoisseurs of the genre and alternately known as Revenge of a Gunfighter. Franco Nero, who played Django Unchained's namesake in 1966's Django, stars as the titular mercenary who joins up with a band of Mexican revolutionaries in a bloody adventure. Jack Palance and Tony Musante co-star; Sergio Corbucci directs.
Adapted from the landmark Broadway musical inspired by Victor Hugo's epic tome, this drama set in 19th-century France follows the journey of Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) a former convict who struggles with what it means to be a moral man while confronted by badgering conmen, political activists, victimized innocents and a lawman with a very stringent concept of justice. Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway co-star; Tom Hooper directs.
While critics debate the value of Hooper's adaptation, it's hard to argue his ambition here isn't admirable. Les Misérables has a massive cast of characters and aims to encompass the experience and agonies of multiple classes within its period setting. There are a lot of moving parts requiring perfection to make it sing. Likewise, here is a trio of period dramas—some with songs—that are awesomely ambitious and grand in scope.
The King's Speech (2010) Tom Hooper first awed audiences with this biopic about King George VI's ascent to the throne, which netted four Oscars including Best Picture. Colin Firth stars as a stuttering royal who must overcome his embarrassing affliction to properly lead his country through some mountingly troubling times. Helena Bonham Carter and Geoffrey Rush co-star as the future Queen mum and an audacious middle class speech therapist respectively.
Velvet Goldmine (1998) Todd Haynes' bold and beautiful drama is equal parts Citizen Kane and David Bowie/Iggy Pop fan fiction. Structured like the former, the film centers on a the quest of a young journalist (Christian Bale) to find what became of glam rock god Brian Slade (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), whose androgynous style and wild antics borrow heavily from Ziggy Stardust-era Bowie. Filled with glamor, glitter, sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll, and an incredible cast that includes Ewan McGregor Eddie Izzard and Toni Collette, this musical packs serious swagger and scads of sensuality.
Jesus Christ Superstar (1973) Bible story movies are often grandiose with special effects and a stern but earnest undertone. But when adapting Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's rock opera about the life of Jesus, Norman Jewison abandoned standard epic tropes and embraced the musical's bold and challenging song numbers that gave voice to such long loathed characters as Pontius Pilate and Judas Iscariot. The result is a movie musical that radiates energy and raw emotion whether Jesus is preaching and tossing tables, Mary Magdalene keens for her doomed love, or Judas cries out from the afterlife about Jesus' confounding plan. At times it's campy, but it's still riveting. Ted Neeley, Carl Anderson, and Yvonne Elliman co-star.
West of Memphis
Three young boys were found mutilated and murdered in an Arkansas town in 1993. What followed was the strange trial and conviction of the West Memphis Three presented here by celebrated documentarian Amy Berg.
West of Memphis offers a harrowing look into a failure of the American justice system, shining a light on its flaws and sins in a way only documentaries can do. For more docs that look at disturbing elements of American life, we suggest this trio. One focuses on another man convicted in the court of public opinion. Another follows the fall of some insanely wealthy members of the American glitterati, and lastly a disturbing tale of American squeamishness and censorship.
Cropsey (2009) Be warned: this doc is not for the faint of heart. Documentarians Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio investigate the urban myth of their Staten Island home, and uncover the horrific rash of child abductions and criminal neglect that spawned these ghoulish local legends. It's a fascinating and disturbing doc that will demand your attention and haunt your nightmares.
The Queen of Versailles (2012) When the 2008 financial crisis hit, countless Americans were impacted, losing their savings, their jobs, and their homes. This is the story of one of them. Jackie Siegel, a personable and ever-chipper trophy wife with very expensive tastes was in the midst of building the U.S.'s largest private residence when her mogul hubby was hard hit by the recession. While it might seem hard to commiserate with millionaires, this doc has received fervent praise, and even made Katey's top ten for the year. A major part of the film's appeal is director Lauren Greenfield's mix of awe at the Seigel family's incomprehensively luxurious lifestyle and genuine compassion for the hardships they are forced to face when all of it is threatened.
Inside Deep Throat (2005) You might chuckle at this cheeky title, but the shocking story documentarians Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato uncover here will prove jaw-dropping and mind-blowing. The porn flick Deep Throat became a national sensation and controversy, hurling its sexy stars into the spotlight—for better or worse—and sparking a sexual revolution and seething backlash. But was what the makers of Deep Throat did criminal? The story is salacious, but what makes this doc a must-see is the spirited and witty way Bailey and Barbato unfold it with revealing interviews, through-provoking insights, and a heavy dose of wry and wild humor.