When you fall in love with a certain actor or director, the first thing you do is watch everything they’ve ever done. Invariably, you’ll come across some movies you’ve never heard of. There are just too many movies out there for all of the good ones to be part of the zeitgeist, so it’s entirely possible that you’ll run across a movie that a) Has an actor you really dig, b) is actually a good movie, and c) you’re the only person you’ve met who’s actually seen it.
That’s a pretty good day, if you ask me. Here are five movies that meet all three criteria. Not only that, but all five are available to stream on Netflix! So there’s really no good reason why you can’t watch these immediately unless, you know, you have better things to do. But let’s face it, you’re scrolling through Unreality when you should be doing something productive, so you obviously have some time on your hands. There’s absolutely no reason the next movie you watch (today!) shouldn’t be…
IMDB Synopsis: “After a tragic car accident that killed his wife, a man discovers he can communicate with the dead to con people but when a demonic spirit appears, he may be the only one who can stop it from killing the living and the dead.”
Why it’s great: First, Michael J. Fox. I mean, that should be enough right there. Second, from watching the clip, there’s a very definite Ghostbusters vibe going on, except that Fox’s Frank Bannister is basically a scam artist. Second, Jeffrey Combs. He’s a “that guy” actor who’s been in everything. If you’re a Star Trek fan, you’ll recognize him as Weyoun in Deep Space Nine. In this movie, his frenetic, creepy FBI agent is just priceless. (“Sheriff! You are violating my territorial bubble!”) Third, it was directed by Peter Jackson. What more do you need to know?
Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead
IMDB Synopsis: “Two minor characters from the play, “Hamlet” stumble around unaware of their scripted lives and unable to deviate from them.”
Why it’s great: Gary Oldman and Tim Roth as the title characters. The play it’s based on was written by Tom Stoppard, one of the greatest living playwrights in the world. (And if plays aren’t really your thing, you’ll be interested to know that Stoppard did the final rewrite on Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Boom.) Did I mention Tim Roth and Gary Oldman, playing off each other like it’s their goddamn job? Plus, if you think Inception had depth, then sink into this mind-hole. One of the greatest meditations on identity and metaphysics that there is, period. Also, it’s funny as hell.
The House of Yes
IMDB synopsis: “A mentally unbalanced young woman (who thinks she’s Jackie Kennedy) flips into a murderous rage when her brother returns home to reveal he’s engaged.”
Why it’s great: The dialogue cuts like a knife in all the best ways. A truly, truly dark comedy. Parker Posey’s portrayal of Jackie-O is spot on, alternatively hilarious, creepy, and unbalanced. You’ll be waiting on the edge of your seat for her to snap. Freddie Prinze Jr. has a great role as the bumbling yet still creepy younger brother. And the inestimable Geneviève Bujold has a small yet incredible role as the twisted family’s mother. One of her lines, when asked “This is how you raised them?” by someone outside the family: “People raise cattle. Children just happen.”
IMDB Synopsis: “A cynically selfish TV executive gets haunted by three spirits bearing lessons on Christmas Eve.”
Why it’s great: Bill Murray. Also, Bill Murray and Bill Murray. It’s a modern adaptation of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol with Bill Murray as Scrooge. OK, you want more? Carol Kane’s Ghost of Christmas Present has one of the funniest physical comedy bits I’ve ever seen. The role of the arrogant TV exec fits Murray like a glove; no one can do funny/cruel like him. You’ll root for him even though he’s a total, complete bastard.
Safety Not Guaranteed
IMDB Synopsis: “Three magazine employees head out on an assignment to interview a guy who placed a classified ad seeking a companion for time travel.”
Why it’s great: Three of the best current television comedies have actors represented here: Mark Duplass (The League), Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation), and Jake Johnson (New Girl). The story is heartwarming and clever, and ultimately where most movies would be ambiguous, refreshingly emphatic and clear. I saw the premier of this movie last summer, and when it was over the audience stood up and cheered. (Full disclosure, there was a fair amount of wine served at the event). The movie is very, very well paced, balancing several character arcs very well. It has a sincerity that feels almost painful at times, and the comedy is quiet and rueful, a background piece rather than the force of the movie. The ending is a breath of fresh air. All the other movies on this list are older; this movie is modern and it resonates with modern problems and concerns. I can’t recommend it enough. If you watch just one of these five, make it this one.