Netflix may be reeling from the loss of the majority of their Disney and Marvel titles since Disney+ launched, but the shift has given them the opportunity to fill their catalog with forgotten favorites and overlooked masterpieces for a new generation to experience.
“The Talented Mr. Ripley” (1999)
Anthony Minghella, director of “The English Patient,” brings Patricia Highsmith’s classic thriller novel to the big screen.
Set in the 1950s, Tom Ripley lives as a lower-class freelancer with a talent for impersonation. After being mistaken for a Princeton graduate at a private party, he is hired to retrieve a wealthy magnate’s prodigal son, Dickie, from his life abroad in Italy to return home. However, upon arrival, it becomes increasingly clear Ripley has developed an obsession with Dickie and his lavish lifestyle, and will do anything to maintain it for himself.
Matt Damon gives arguably the best performance of his career as the disturbed sociopath Tom Ripley, whom the film constantly challenges us to both empathize with and be revolted by. The film also features a terrific and chilling score and some classic jazz pieces in its soundtrack—with Dickie being an avid jazz buff.
The gorgeous and stylish direction of picturesque Italian cityscapes and the beautiful people that inhabit them contrasts with the film’s grim and eerie tone. Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jack Davenport and Cate Blanchett also bring their A-game to this relentlessly slow-burning thriller.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s third feature may be his most epic and ambitious to date.
Telling the stories of uniquely strange and seemingly unrelated people in Los Angeles, this film unravels them at a deliberate pace to reveal the interconnecting paths between all of their lives. The film combines A-listers—Tom Cruise, Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly—and veteran character actors—William H. Macy, Philip Baker Hall, Philip Seymour Hoffman—as each of them deliver intensely passionate and deeply-moving performances.
The editing is impressive, with the narrative often cutting between individual plot lines as they each collectively build to an emotional crescendo, which can feel overwhelming at times, but results in one of the most beautifully cathartic and bittersweet experiences one can have with a film. This is cemented by the melancholic and vulnerable songs by Aimee Mann, which bookend each act.
“What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?” (1993)
Swedish filmmaker Lasse Hallström and novelist Peter Hedges brings to life Hedges’ own novel in a rare case where the adaptation superseded the source material in popularity.
Johnny Depp stars as Gilbert, a young man stuck in a dead-end town in Iowa he longs to escape. Gilbert’s family is also socially outcast from the town; they’re exceptionally poor, their father committed suicide some years before and their now-morbidly obese mother and family matriarch never leaves the house due to her appearance—leaving Gilbert and his sisters to care for their mentally impaired younger brother. A young woman passing through the town during the annual Airstreamer’s Club meeting strikes up a bond with Gilbert and his family, and Gilbert is torn between his desire to leave behind his past and his duty to his family.
Depp is terrifically charismatic, yet tortured and subdued as our lead hero Gilbert, with Juliette Lewis and Darlene Cates being superb as well—Cates especially, as Gilbert’s mother. A highlight of the film is a young Leonardo DiCaprio, who portrays Gilbert’s disabled brother Arnie with impressive range and accuracy despite only being about 18 at the time of filming. The film is tender and heartbreaking at times, and while it is somewhat glossy and melodramatic similar to other 90s dramas—like “Forrest Gump”—it overcomes its surface sentimentality to deliver something more lachrymose.
Coming from the mind of Clive Barker, the man behind “Hellraiser,” “Candyman” is a unique horror experience that blends elements of the slasher genre with the grounded realism of the “hood film” genre, while dabbling in ideas of the power of stories, urban legends and their place in our lives.
Tony Todd, a character actor who has become a staple of horror and cult cinema, is brilliant and memorable as the titular villain. Candyman is both a chilling and unnerving presence, but remains oddly seductive and captivating. The strange symbiotic relationship he forms with the heroine, played by Virginia Madsen, places the film in yet another bizarre sub genre: the twisted horror romance.
The film possesses a nightmarish quality, with the borders between reality and dreams gradually blurring as it goes on to offset the gritty locations and stark realism of the first half. There are some effective practical effects used sparsely throughout—most notably when Candyman’s mouth overflows with live bees, which were indeed real bees in Todd’s mouth.
While the film depicts some problematic tropes—Virginia Madsen’s character does embody the “white savior” archetype, though this is debatably intentional and/or satirical—the film remains one of the most sophisticated and mature entries that the horror canon has to offer. This element of sophistication is no doubt helped by the iconic score by acclaimed classical composer Philip Glass.
It’s also the perfect time to watch this often overlooked cult classic, as Jordan Peele is co-writing and producing a reboot or sequel to it, set to release this June.
Matt Cotter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @NevadaSagebrush.