Looking for something to relax with this long weekend?
Keen on engrossing and entertaining viewing, but with a story that doesn’t require you to commit to much more than two hours before you get a suitable payoff?
Amongst its vast and somewhat eclectic range of flicks, Netflix has a range of award-winning movies from the last half-century.
After looking through the current line-up, Stuff to Watch has come with 10 titles that we believe will more than fit the bill.
All Quiet on the Western Front (2022)
A heady combination of visceral horrors and disquieting, often dissonant, audio accompaniment is at the heart of this stunning latest adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s more than 90-year-old novel.
While making a few changes, most notably around the already very non-Hollywood ending, to heighten the tragedy and pointlessness of the conflict (as a title card notes, three million people lost their lives over a “front line” that barely moved over the course of four years), this All Quiet is still very much the traumatising experiences of young German soldier Paul Bäumer (Felix Kammerer).
Sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction. Thanks to CIA files declassified in 1997, Hollywood was finally able to tell the tale of how an Oscar-winning make-up artist helped rescue six American embassy officials trapped in Iran in the aftermath of the overthrow of the Shah and the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini.
As this tightly wound, adroitly put together drama explains, the operation was a fine example of international co-operation and the global embrace of American science- fiction in the late 1970s.
Director Ben Affleck also heads a terrific acting ensemble that features John Goodman, Alan Arkin and Bryan Cranston.
The Godfather (1972)
Director Francis Ford Coppola evocatively brings to life Mario Puzo’s best-selling 1969 novel chronicling the Corleone crime family.
Not only does it make terrific use of a truly impressive acting ensemble (a deep bench of talent that includes everyone from James Caan to Robert Duvall, Al Pacino, Diane Keaton and, of course, Marlon Brando), but it is filled with memorable, now iconic cinematic moments. There’s the present left on the bed, the visit to the toll booth and, naturally, the first time we meet Brando’s Don Corleone, a scene which culminates in him saying the immortal line: “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse”.
Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio (2022)
Brought to life via some truly evocative and spellbinding stop-motion animation (courtesy of The Jim Henson Company) – you can see the Italian pine wood grain and feel the expressions of joy and grief etched in their magnificently realised visages – the Mexican director cleverly shifts the action from Carlo Collodi’s beloved 1883 novel’s traditional 19th Century setting to 1930s Italy. The shadow of fascism looms large over the story, with even then Italian leader Benito Mussolini himself making an appearance. Boasting a vocal cast that includes Christoph Waltz, Ron Perlman, Ewan McGregor, Tilda Swinton and David Bradley, this is a tale full of resonance, jaw-dropping visuals and emotional storytelling
Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Despite being in a leading role, director Clint Eastwood actually takes a back seat to the superb combination of Morgan Freeman and Swank in this Oscar-winning boxing drama.
Packing a powerful emotional punch, it also produced one of the twists of that decade, which left many audience members in shock.
“She is an extraordinary bundle of ferocity and ice,” The Times’ James Christopher wrote of Swank’s Academy Award-winning performance.
Like Sir Peter Jackson’s They Shall Not Grow Old, this is inspired by the exploits of the film-maker’s grandfather in “The Great War”. Sir Sam Mendes says the story (co-written with Penny Dreadful’s Krysty Wilson-Cairns) was based around a “fragment” Alfred Mendes told to him.
But while the story itself is engrossing, Mendes elevates it to another level by making it seem to play out in real time and via a single, continuous shot. The breathless action, excellent sound design and Thomas Newman’s urgent, driving score ensuring it is very much a cinematic spectacle.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
Sure some of this psychological drama’s tone and actions of the main characters may not quite gel with modern audiences’ sensibilities now, but there’s no doubting the power of the performances in Milos Forman’s adaptation of Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel.
Jack Nicholson is at his charismatic and unpredictable best as a Korean War veteran and criminal who decides to take on the system, after he’s admitted to a mental institution. However, it’s his nemesis, Louise Fletcher’s Nurse Ratched, who really steals the show.
Amongst an impressive supporting cast, look out for future Taxi duo Danny DeVito and Christopher Lloyd.
Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
Loosely based on Matthew Quick’s 2008 novel of the same name, this drama plays like a more grounded version of Benny and Joon, or Sleepless in Seattle: The Bipolar Edition, than the portrait of a man trying to remake himself – as two troubled souls stumble their way towards some kind of happiness.
As with many of David O. Russell’s tales (The Fighter, Amsterdam) though, this movie is about the actors and the juicy script Russell has delivered them. Bradley Cooper manages to be charismatic, despite his character’s inability to “filter himself” while talking, while Robert De Niro delivers one of his best performances of the past two decades.
However, the real star is Jennifer Lawrence. Best known at this point in her career for playing backwoods characters in Winter’s Bone and The Hunger Games, here she proved she can do cynical and urbane, as a troubled young widow drawn to Cooper’s breathless optimism.
Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
Danny Boyle directs this true crowd-pleaser about a Mumbai teen who grew up in the slums and becomes a contestant on the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? As he continues to excel and close in one the big prize, officials become convinced that he has to be cheating in some way.
A loose version of Vikas Swarup’s 2005 novel Q&A, it’s the movie that introduced the world to Dev Patel and everyone outside of the sub-continent to Anil Kapoor and the Bollywood musical stylings of AS Rahmen.
A tale full of toe tapping tunes, incredible imagery and, sometimes, almost unbearable tension.
A clever, compelling and character-filled combination of All the Presidents’ Men, Zodiac and Sleepers, this Academy Awards Best Picture winner is both a fantastic recreation of a small group of journalists’ determination to get to the truth and paean to the dying art of in-depth investigative journalism.
Writer-director Tom McCarthy does a superb job of keeping all the story strands taut and judges the pacing perfectly, knowing just when to drive the story on and when to linger to add that extra layer of emotional depth.
It helps that he has such a superb ensemble cast headed by Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams and Mark Ruffalo.