5 Best New Movies on Netflix Instant: Gems From Shailene Woodley, Kirsten Dunst and—Believe It or Not—Nicolas Cage
The Brothers Bloom (2008)
Between making the shatteringly brilliant high-school noir Brick (2005), and the perplexingly dense Looper (2012), writer/director Rian Johnson made this twisty big-con caper flick, starring Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo. The pair star as brothers involved in a giant, multi-leveled gambit—yes, the last one of their careers—trying to scam a beautiful heiress (played by Rachel Weisz) out of a fortune.
Much like the mob, every time you think you’re totally out on Nic Cage, he turns around and pulls you back in with a surprisingly solid performance. Eschewing big-budget CGI nonsense for a few minutes, Cage stars as the titular character, a loner of an ex-con, who befriends a hard-luck kid (Tye Sheridan) from an abusive family and fights for his own redemption. Despite its melodramatic-sounding premise, it’s actually a pretty low-key sort of affair—largely due to the steady helm of director David Gordon Green—which allows Cage a chance to actually act instead of just grimace a bunch. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget he can do that.
The Two Faces of January (2014)
A twisty, Hitchcockian tale concerning a married couple (Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst) visiting Greece, who befriend a young, small-time con man (Oscar Isaac). The trio get entwined when the couple are forced to go on the lam after a murder that may or may not have been done in self-defense. Based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith, who always loved international intrigue and people who tell lies for a living, the cast more than lives up to the pulpy material, and the ancient-world backdrop works perfectly to enhance the age-old story of deceit and connivery. (Available February 12th)
The Overnighters (2014)
A small town in North Dakota is the setting for this superb documentary from Jesse Moss. It concerns a crowd of desperate folk streaming into town hoping to find an oil-rigging job where they can strike for big bucks. Come to find out, though they find a job market that has all but disappeared, and a jaded group of townspeople who have had enough of displaced transients trying to bleed their community dry. Fortunately, they are bolstered by a local pastor, who refuses to quit on them in their hour of greatest need. The American Dream crashes into a brick wall, and this film brilliantly displays the wreckage. (Available February 17th)
White Bird in a Blizzard (2014)
A sort of coming-of-age story set in 1988 about 17-year-old girl Kat (Shailene Woodley), whose mother (Eva Green) suddenly vanishes, leaving the teen and her repressed father (Christopher Meloni) to cope with the aftermath. As directed by Gregg Araki, he of the stylish vacuousness that produced Nowhere, Ka-Boom, and The Doom Generation, the film plays like a disaffected thriller, starring a heroine who doesn’t quite seem to care. Still, it’s worth seeing for Woodley’s performance, which is, as ever, solid, and the peculiar spectacle of a film that tries to engage you by not really engaging itself. (Available February 19)
Piers Marchant is a film critic and writer based in Philly. Find more confounding amusements and diversions at his blog, Sweet Smell of Success, or read his further 142-character rants and ravings at @kafkaesque83.