This is always the downer kind of article that I personally hate writing but I feel is incredibly necessary in our increasingly digitized, month-by-month, present-day means of consuming movies. I hate that it’s so very necessary to malinger on movies that millions of people will no longer have access to, but understand that this is the way of the world now. Physical media is on the decline, as is theatrical attendance. Most movies are streamed at home, where it is easiest, cheapest and most convenient to do so. And rotating catalogs of content, while frustrating as all Hell, necessarily means that each service will forever feel fresh, unique and with something exciting to watch (or at least something new).
Sometimes the job is relatively easy: months in which loyal subscribers are inundated with great, interesting and all-around must-see content that’s new to the service. Other times, however, it is decidedly not: times in which the new offers amount to relatively slim pickings and cornerstone achievements in the medium are what’s on the chopping block. And while July certainly isn’t the worst month we’ve had in recent memory (the additions of The Princess and the Frog, Inglourious Basterds, Mean Dreams, Mean Streets, Megamind, Taxi Driver and a new season of Stranger Things absolutely helps in that regard), it sure as Hell isn’t one of the better ones.
The Matrix (1999) — As tired as I’ve gotten of the retroactive think-pieces of how 1999 was one of the best years in Hollywood, if not global, moviemaking of all time — personally, I think that 1939, 1954, 1960, 1967, 1982, 1994, 2007 and 2014 resoundingly beat it in that regard for a start — even I can’t deny that 1999 had an uncommonly high number of (decidedly mainstream) classics. To name a few, it had what is still hands-down the best Toy Story movie, the still terrifyingly prescient Fight Club, the off-beat Being John Malkovich, the tragically predictive Election, the crowd-pleasing Boondock Saints, the spine-tingling Audition, the classic Iron Giant, the star-making Sixth Sense and what is still unquestionably the best Kevin Smith movie. And, of course, there was The Matrix: a knowing hybridization of Eastern martial arts movies and Western sci-fi ones — which has since proven as predictive of how 21st century blockbusters would look, feel and sound like as something like The Avengers (2012)or Pacific Rim (2013) is for the 2010s and beyond, and yet inexplicably feels fresher and more original with each passing year, especially with the increasingly common LGBT-centered readings of the film’s undeniably queer subtext. And rather than embracing this masterwork of filmmaking during both its 20th anniversary year and at a time when LGBT groups are subject to attacks of increasing savagery — rather than fully celebrating this film, its creators and what it stands for to the fullest of its abilities — Netflix has opted to cut the entire franchise from its programming: both the unimpeachable original and its not quite up to the task (yet still endlessly fascinating) sequels. And we, as a moviegoing people, are left all the poorer for it.
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) — It should go without saying now that Guillermo del Toro is one of our best, most-talented and most fiercely original directors working today. He took a lackluster action-horror movie like Blade (1998) and transformed it into some alchemical recombination of Aliens (1986) in Blade II (2002). He took a thoroughly juvenile comic indie comic book and gave us the likes of Hellboy (2004) and Hellboy 2 (2008). He elevated a prurient obsession with the iconic Gill-Man and gave us an Academy Award-winning prestige picture. And even in Hollywood exile after Mimic (1997) — a movie which is actually worthwhile in its own right if you seek out the much-improved director’s cut of the film — he gave us all-time classics like The Devil’s Backbone (2001) and, of course, what is perhaps his most famous and beloved feature, Pan’s Labyrinth: a dark, twisted fairy tale superimposed on the dark, twisted realities of Franco-era Spain
Silence of the Lambs (1991) — I have long since some to peace with the fact that horror, my all-time favorite genre, is far from a universal critical darling. Sometimes you get an Exorcist (1973) or a Get Out (2017), but mostly these are cheap, studio-write-offs, indie passion projects and inexpensive ways for budding directors to get their feet wet and their films out to its niche-but-dedicated fanbase. Depending on who you ask, though (the verdict seems to change based on the age and prestige-sensibilities of whoever’s being queried), The Silence of the Lambs is that rare horror movie that breaks out not just into the mainstream, but into the mainstream awards circuit. Sweeping the five major categories the year it was released (Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actor, Actress), it stands as one of the worthiest movies to ever take the top prize at Hollywood’s highest held ceremony: and for good reason too, as it today stands as one of the best and most quotable examples of the entire genre.
The Terminator (1984) —In truth, I’m really surprised to see this movie go: not because it’s just that good (although it is) or because the streaming platform has historically been woefully understocked in terms of horror films (which it is), but because it’s just such a timely film to have on-board, what with a new sequel about to hit theaters later this year (Terminator: Dark Fate) and the fact that having the earlier installments of beloved blockbuster franchises just in time for the latest sequel to capture the popular imagination once more seams to be Netflix’s modus operandi for the most part. Whether you want to marathon the franchise to prep for the latest release or to hate-watch the good ones in protest for the continually disappointing retreads of the original’s groundbreaking formula, this is the kind of movie that you’d expect them to want to keep on-hand come Dark Fate‘s early November release.
The Wild Bunch (1969) — For as famous a filmmaker and provocateur as the man is both in general and amongst his particular generation of New Hollywood neophytes, I can’t help but feel like the once incontrovertible Sam Peckinpah has fallen by the wayside in the popular discourse. One might first understandably assume that he’s simply a victim of our own shifting goalposts for what constitutes “acceptable” filmmaking, but if you actually sat down and watched one of his movies from the late 60s or early 70s, you’d understand that that simply cannot be the case. His movies are as vicious, bloody, gruesome and all-around nasty as they ever were, and even though there would doubtless be room to add more visceral depravity on top of the finished products in today’s insatiable market, the fact of the matter is that his films are already far more depraved than even many of the most challenging movies of today are. Rather than being too old fashioned or comparatively sanitized in his execution, rather, I think that it has more to do that his usual modes of filmmaking are simply out of fashion these days: straight-laced westerns, gritty rape-revenge stories and white-knuckled crime flicks have given way to modern-set tales of cowpokes, zombie apocalypses and superhero blowouts. And that’s a real shame, because his films really were far ahead of their time in terms of what their director was willing to leave on the screen, and unparalleled in elevating said films from mere baseless spectacle.
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