It’s one of the greatest questions of modern times – is the order in which you place films in your Netflix queue victim to the luck of the drawl or is there a definitive art to this endeavor?
Sometimes I place movies in my queue I feel I need to watch just to say I watched them (even an amateur film critic like myself has to keep up with the latest releases no matter how bad I know they will be) or that I know will be gleefully awful (hello to you, my laugh-out-loud friend, Hobo With a Shotgun). But for the most part, I’m pretty selective in my choices and I try to find a balance in how I order my queue so that I have a steady and proportional stream of “I know these will suck” entries mixed with highly anticipated new releases and classics I’ve been long overdue to uncover.
Lately I’ve been struck with a series of disappointments that serendipitously found their way to the top of my queue. First, there was Of Gods and Men. Don’t get me wrong – this was a “noble film” based on true events surrounding a French monastery’s reaction to the Algerian conflict of the 1990’s that was well crafted and well acted, but I just didn’t connect with the religious nature of the story and found myself disconnected throughout its run-time. The film had come highly recommended, so I was especially annoyed I couldn’t find a way to appreciate the film beyond its noble but shortsighted attempt at drama.
Next up was a nearly indiscernible double-feature: two star-vehicles trying to recapture the past success of other films that found moderate success at the box-office but were completely inept. On one hand, there was the Matt Damon vehicle, The Adjustment Bureau, which attempted to cash in on Inception‘s success. The opening moments were nearly incoherent, the direction and sound design slapdash, and the romance at its core hackneyed, despite adequate efforts from Damon and Emily Blunt. On the other hand was the Liam Neeson vehicle, Unknown, which foolishly tried to copy the success of the god-awful Taken. It was a bit more polished than The Adjustment Bureau but no less silly and embarrassing. Both films had preposterous set-ups that if cleverly done had potential for entertainment, but were so idiotically executed as to be rendered banal, and I fell asleep during both films not caring at all how predictably they would end.
It seemed a cruel twist of fate that this series of disappointments would reach the top of my queue one after another…a stretch of bad luck the went all the way back to the artsy/trashy Korean serial-killer/revenge flick I Saw the Devil – one of the most abhorrent and despicable excuses for film I’ve seen in many moons. It was so distasteful, I couldn’t even bear to watch the whole thing. Whereas the equally execrable but more watchable Hobo with a Shotgun at least knew that this kind of dreck should be done tongue-in-cheek, I Saw the Devil represents the worst type of film: a complete piece of shit that tries to convince you it’s art.
But then the Netflix gods smiled down upon me with two films reaching the top of my queue that I had little hope for but surprised and delighted me on every level – behold the massively appealing Rango and Source Code.
First up is Rango – an animated star-vehicle for the over-exposed and worrisome Johnny Depp. What I keep forgetting is that this film’s director, Gore Verbinski, is the best mainstream subversive director parading as a hack working in Hollywood today. Essentially this tale of a pet lizard who dreams of acting and gets lost in the desert only to come across an Old-West town full of animals looking for water and a hero is Chinatown by way of The Coen Brothers melded with Shrek and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. It’s an animated film for adults and films buffs, though kids will love all the funny action set pieces and amazingly detailed visuals.
How can you not like a film where tall tales are shared around the campfire by a bunch of varmints saying lines like the following?
One time I coughed up an entire tribe of pygmies. They started lookin’ at me funny.
I remember them! Really nice bunch of people!
I once found a human spinal column in my fecal matter…
I haven’t laughed so hard in a long time, and the pieces of riotous dialogue combined with astounding visuals make this…yes…dare I say it…dare I who loathes animation in general spare for the occasional Pixar entry…yes…you heard it here first at The Spin…I’m going on record…Rango is one of the best films of the year.
Which brings us to…one of the best films of the year…Source Code.
I am no fan of Jake Gy-the-man-with-too-many-a’s-and-l’s-in-his-name. But, hey, put in him a high-concept sci-fi thriller (remember how tolerable he was in Donnie Darko?) and things might work out. Director Duncan Jones (who previously did Moon) seems to be filling the gap left by Christopher Nolan when he’s off making Batman films. Source Code is a Hitchcockian gimmick thriller with sci-fi implications: think Strangers on a Train mixed with Groundhog Day by way of Twelve Monkeys. What makes Source Code so special is the economical nature of its gimmick (Jakey-poo has only eight minutes each time to thwart a terrorist attack and save his paramour – the lovely Michelle Monaghan) and its slim run-time. It’s slick, polished, expertly paced and utterly riveting. And best of all, it manages to make something that could easily come across as silly – a hopeful closing coda about the choices we make and the destinies we create – seem just as thrilling and wholly organic. Duncan Jones has his ducks in a row, and he shoots them down with the type of aplomb usually reserved for your most skilled and experienced of populist entertainers.
And maybe that’s the master plan of the matrix that is one’s Netflix queue. No matter how skilled you are in your choices, no matter how careful you are in your ordering, no matter how strategic or how balanced…sometimes it’s a string of really bad films that need to come your way one after another exploding like bombs on a train to make you realize just how special those diamonds in the rough really are.
- Rango – 8.5/10
- Source Code – 8.5/10
- Of Gods and Men – 6/10
- The Adjustment Bureau – 4/10
- Unknown – 4/10
- Hobo With a Shotgun – 3/10
- I Saw the Devil – 0/10
Dave, interesting read. The 80s gave us “The Politics of Dancing” while the Aughts have given us “The Politics of the Netflix Queue.” I have to admit, I find it interesting that I got “The King’s Speech” and “Black Swan” pretty quickly after adding them and yet, last year, I had Drew Barrymore’s “Whip It” showing “Very Long Wait” for over four months. I didn’t know so many people were clamoring to see it. I’ve got a pretty good mixture of old and new movies in my queue, and I try to order it in a way that’ll predict my tastes for that coming week, but sometimes, ya never know.
I mostly agree with you about “The Adjustment Bureau.” I think I liked it slightly more than you did, mostly because of Damon and Blunt’s performances. It was a bit of a letdown, though. I expected something more frenetic than its leisurely pace. I also expected some twist to the storytelling, a la “Inception” or even Alex Proyas’s “Dark City.”
And funny you should bring up “Source Code” and “Rango,” as both are next in my queue!
Chris – LMAO, Whip It was also in my queue for a notoriously long time and was also surprisingly entertaining when I did finally see it. I hope you enjoy Rango and Source Code! –DHS
I would agree with ‘Rango’ as one of the best films this year, and also very much liked ‘Source Code’. As with your first commenter, I liked ‘The Adjustment Bureau’ more than you did; perhaps for the same reason (and I’m a sucker for odd-reality stories). And it’s nice to see ‘Dark City’ and ‘Moon’ mentioned; SF films true SF fans pray for.
Speaking of which, have you seen Danny Boyle’s ‘Sunshine’? Maybe not in the same class as the above, but an interesting idea (once you get past the “gimme” of actually jump-starting the sun…it’s like warp drive or time travel… just go with it).
Another (deeply) odd, but wonderful, SF film is ‘Smilla’s Sense of Snow’, which is based on a (deeply, deeply) odd novel. Starts off as a murder mystery of sorts and then surprises you. The novel is possibly the weirdest SF novel I’ve ever read!
Wyrd – Thanks for stopping by. I am not a fan of Boyle’s style and found Sunshine virtually unwatchable. Smilla’s Sense of Snow, however, I did oddly enjoy. –DHS
I didn’t see “Hobo with a Shotgun,” but otherwise I couldn’t disagree with you more about all of the movies you talked about other than the certifiably terrible “Unknown” and the decent “Adjustment Bureau.”
I hated “Rango,” and liked all the others (though the further I get away from “I Saw the Devil” the less I like it). I thought “Source Code” was a solid thriller, but I’m stunned by your reaction to “Of Gods and Men.” It is one of the few movies I’ve given five stars to and is almost certain to end up on my year end best list. Despite my rather definite atheistic views I was moved by the commitment of these men to their cause despite the threats to their lives. Commitment and bravery are traits I can admire no matter the inspiration. I also loved so many of the performances, including Loic Pichon who I think gave one of the best supporting performances of 2010, if not the best.
But everyone misses one at some point. I just have to assume you’ll come to your senses at some point.
Jason – I’m as surprised as you by my indifference to Of Gods and Men, as is it the type of thing usually right up my alley. I found much merit in the acting and the film’s construction, I just didn’t find the story resonated, and I had a very hard time relating to the monks as people and as martyrs. –DHS
I must admit I am most surprised that OF GODS AND MEN didn’t resonate with you, as I do agree it normally is very much your cup of tea. For me it is one of the best films of this past year – a film of remarkable emotional power and spiritual electricity. But this is a week of disagreement, as I was no fan of RANGO at all. Ha!
Sam – I have to say I am a bit surprised by all the Rango hate from you and Jason! Must be why it’s one of the few animated films I really enjoyed – ha! –DHS
Thoughtful post, David. I don’t have Netflix (yet — I’m still unemployed) and have not been using my Blockbuster card either. But how sad about ‘The Adjustment Bureau.” I had looked forward to it because it’s based on a Philip K. Dick story and his stories are usually fun. Clearly, this one is no “Bladerunner.” I am now looking forward to someday watching “Rango” and “Source Code,” both of which made my list of movies to see.
My movie list is old fashioned — written by pen on paper. The titles have no particular order or preference. I write them there when someone tells me about a movie, or I miss something that was in the theater. I’d planned to use this list to create my queue once I joined Netflix, but your musings on the order has me thinking. I’ll keep it in mind….
Cinda – it was a very liberal adaptation of the P. K. Dick story – very very disappointing. –DHS