(Note: This article originally appeared here.)
Netflix’s list of February releases include Oscar-winning works by three of the film world’s biggest names: Kathryn Bigelow, Steven Spielberg, and Martin Scorsese. As always, you can prepare yourself for February’s slate of theatrical releases by watching what’s coming to Netflix and related DVDs at home. Here’s a more detailed look:
The Hurt Locker (2009; out February 1)
Kathryn Bigelow became the first (and still the only) woman to win a directing Oscar for her work in The Hurt Locker, a movie that follows three American soldiers (Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, and Brian Geraghty) who work as bomb disposal technicians in Iraq. The film has many of the telltale characteristics (handheld footage, disorienting editing) of your typical war movie. But what distinguishes it from many of its peers is the way it plays with expectations: suspenseful build-ups eventually peter out to nothing, people die in the most mundane of circumstances, and at the end, the characters remain as lost and troubled as they were at the start. Renner’s galvanizing lead performance ensures that the overall movie succeeds in portraying the addictive effects of combat – even as it also shows the dehumanizing toll war takes on soldiers and their sense of masculinity.
Goodfellas (1990; out February 1)
Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas really doesn’t need an introduction. This wildly influential chronicle of the rise and fall of gangster Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) is not only better than The Godfather—a film that can’t help but romanticize the Mafia—but it also remains Scorsese’s most watchable meditation on his favorite theme: the irresistible (yet dangerous) allure of sin. In his examination of unchecked materialism, Scorsese rarely challenges the audience the way Sofia Coppola did in 2013’s The Bling Ring. But his technique is nevertheless masterful: in the second half, watch the way he uses smooth tracking shots and upbeat music to counterpoint his characters’ depraved actions. And the performances Scorsese gets out of his actors (Liotta, Robert de Niro, Joe Pesci, and more) are undeniably some of the best they’ve given in their entire careers.
Lincoln (2012; out February 21)
Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln is ostensibly about the 16th president (played, of course, by Daniel Day-Lewis, method actor par excellence) and his efforts to get the 13th Amendment through Congress. But despite its title, the movie isn’t so much a presidential biopic as a wider, meticulously crafted portrait of the 19th-century political scene—partisanship, sleazy bartering and all. Spielberg’s heavy-handed direction turns many would-be touching scenes into sentimental glop, and despite his best efforts, his attitude towards Lincoln occasionally borders on idolatry. Still, Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography skillfully evokes the creeping force of Lincoln’s introverted, pensive personality. And the movie is well served by its outstanding cast—not just in Day-Lewis, but also in Sally Field (as Lincoln’s wife Mary) and David Strathairn (as Lincoln’s Secretary of State).
Transgender films of 1999: All About My Mother and Boys Don’t Cry.
In 1999, two Oscar-winning films—Pedro Almodóvar’s All About My Mother and Kimberly Peirce’s Boys Don’t Cry—both prominently featured transgender characters. The former constitutes a cornerstone of Almodóvar’s so-called “cinema of women,” mixing references to classic ’50s movies with a colorful melodrama about AIDS, grief, and the allure of theater. The latter, meanwhile, is a biopic of Brandon Teena (Hilary Swank in a heart-wrenching performance), a trans man whose rape and murder sparked a national outcry in the early ’90s. Neither film challenges the idea that all LGBT love stories must end tragically. But in a time when the transgender community continues to face prejudice, both films still stand out for the compassion they bring to their subject matter.
See it for: In Sebastian Lelio’s Oscar-nominated A Fantastic Woman, a trans woman has to confront the transphobia of her deceased lover’s family. It’ll be playing at the Music Box Theatre starting February 9.
The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)
Clint Eastwood’s directorial debut tells the story of Josey Wales (played by Eastwood himself), a Confederate guerrilla fighter who becomes wanted after he refuses to surrender to the Union. As a character, Wales proves maddeningly disingenuous: even though he acts cynical and claims that heroes don’t exist, he kills bigots and saves innocent damsels like your typical good guy. Still, the movie’s brutally honest depiction of the West—a region in which white men gave free rein to their racism and misogyny—continues to provide a refreshing antidote to stereotyped depictions of the region. And if you enjoyed Eastwood’s “Man with No Name” roles in Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns, his performance here won’t disappoint.
See it for: Eastwood’s latest film, The 15:17 to Paris, concerns the three men who took down a gunman on a train to Paris in 2015. The movie will be in theaters on February 9.
The Handmaiden (2016)
In The Handmaiden, Park Chan-wook’s adaptation of the British crime novel Fingersmith, a young Korean woman (Kim Tae-ri) teams up with a con artist (Ha Jung-woo) to swindle a Japanese heiress (Kim Min-hee) out of her fortune. As fans of Park’s Oldboy won’t be surprised to hear, what follows is a mind-bending, intricate tale of revenge that flaunts violence, sex, and thriller in equal measure. The film lacks Oldboy’s philosophical ambition—and Park throws so many plot twists at you that he occasionally loses track of basic logic. But in his defense, he’s toned down the callous sarcasm that proved to be Oldboy’s biggest weakness. And thanks in part to its ornate yet rigid set design, The Handmaiden still provides a meaningful, tragicomic look at the dangers of emotional repression.
(Don’t) see it for: If kinky sex is what you’re into, The Handmaiden is just one of many films that you can watch over Fifty Shades Freed.
Fruitvale Station (2013)
On the first day of 2009, a young African-American man named Oscar Grant was shot by police in Oakland, California; as with Eric Garner five years later, footage of his death went viral and provoked widespread demonstrations. In a documentary-esque fashion, Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station reconstructs the last 24 hours of Grant’s life, following him as he tries to hang on to a job, messes around with friends, and struggles to escape his drug-riddled past. The movie’s gritty, cinéma vérité-esque look clashes with its narrative’s sporadic bursts of sentimentalism, particularly in a scene where Grant is shown lamenting the death of a dog. But Coogler by and large attains his main objective: humanizing a man whose cause of death remains depressingly common.
See it for: Coogler directed Black Panther, the latest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It arrives in theaters on February 16.
NOTE: Fruitvale Station is also available on Netflix.
Never Let Me Go (2010)
A film adaptation of the Kazuo Ishiguro novel of the same name, Mark Romanek’s Never Let Me Go follows Kathy (Carey Mulligan), Ruth (Keira Knightley), and Tommy (Andrew Garfield), three people who learn that they are destined to die as young organ donors. Alex Garland’s script overuses first-person narration, and Romanek regularly displays an annoying fondness for mushy background music. But the film’s melancholic, desolate cinematography ably captures the creeping feeling of doom that hangs over Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy’s lives. And the all-around excellent performances—don’t miss Charlotte Rampling’s small but memorable turn as a headmistress—accentuate the perplexing questions the original novel raises about our understanding of death and love.
See it for: Three years ago, Garland made his directorial debut with the indie hit Ex Machina. His second directorial endeavor, Annihilation, will be in theaters on February 23.
NOTE: Never Let Me Go is also available on Netflix.