(Note: This article originally appeared here.)
Netflix’s list of March releases contains a solid variety of cinematic and TV-related treats. In honor of Women’s History Month, moreover, there’ll be lots of original content celebrating the work of women, including the newest season of Jessica Jones and a David Letterman interview with Malala Yousafzai. If you’re one of those people who prefer to look to the past, however, here are some older Netflix/DVD releases you can watch instead:
- Up in the Air (2009; out March 1)
After directing Ellen Page to an Oscar nom in 2007’s Juno, Jason Reitman turned to the corporate world in 2009’s Up in the Air, a film about a businessman (George Clooney) who (quite literally) fires people for a living. Reitman’s award-winning script never really resolves the many contradictions in its character sketches, and although it touches on plenty of grim socioeconomic issues, it ultimately sweeps them under the rug in favor of a more familiar, feel-good story about the importance of human relationships. Still, Reitman’s knack for creating funny, pointed dialogue ensures that you’ll be invested in everything you watch. And to Reitman’s credit, he’s also rounded up an exceptionally talented cast: Anna Kendrick gives a hilarious breakout performance, and Clooney excels in the one of the most surprisingly vulnerable roles of his career.
- Moon (2009; out March 1)
What if the moon could help us break our addiction to fossil fuels? That’s the intriguing premise of Duncan Jones’ Moon, a film about a man (Sam Rockwell) who manages an imaginary helium-3 extraction facility on the far side of the moon. I won’t go into any more detail about the plot, seeing as that would entail giving away its many elegant twists. What I can safely say, however, is that Rockwell is exceptional – as is Jones’ use of cinematography and set design to evoke the desolation of outer space. And while the film may not have much in the way of special effects, it more than makes up for this through a probing, richly fascinating examination of what it means to be “human.” This is hardly the most well-known of 2009’s many sci-fi releases (Avatar, Star Trek, District 9), but it’s easily the most thoughtful and developed of the bunch.
- Notorious (1946)
In Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious, a secret agent (Cary Grant) hires a woman (Ingrid Bergman) to seduce an ex-Nazi (Claude Rains) who’s been illegally mining for uranium ore. As with most of Hitchcock’s works, however, this convoluted espionage premise is just a cover for what the film actually cares about: the tense love triangle that develops between Bergman, Grant, and Rains’ characters. Brilliant acting and dialogue aside—the script is one of Ben Hecht’s juiciest—Hitchcock’s sympathetic portrayal of Bergman’s character will come as a relief to anyone who balked at Rear Window and Vertigo’s comparatively obsessive conceptions of women. And the film’s cinematography is exquisite: a shot in which the camera smoothly moves from a bird’s-eye view of a lobby into a close-up of a key remains one of the finest in Hitchcock’s entire body of work.
See it for: Espionage and trysts also constitute the main subject matter of Red Sparrow, a film that features Jennifer Lawrence as a Russian intelligence agent. It’ll be in theaters on March 2.
- The Big Heat (1953)
Some two decades after creating his most famous works (Metropolis, M) in Germany, the Austrian-born filmmaker Fritz Lang directed The Big Heat, a film noir in which a policeman named Dave (Glenn Ford) tries to avenge his wife’s (Jocelyn Brando) brutal murder. The film’s happy ending clashes with the rampant corruption and cynicism it otherwise portrays—and as a character, Dave lacks the moral ambiguity that haunts the similarly vengeful protagonists of later movies like Oldboy. Still, Lang expertly highlights the way organized crime often succeeds in hiding its gruesomeness under a glamorous façade. And the movie also stands out for its willingness to dismantle gender stereotypes: instead of reinforcing film noir’s traditional dichotomy of seductive femme fatales and innocent housewives, the female characters here have real agency, and their male counterparts mistreat them at their own peril.
See it for: In Death Wish, a remake of the 1974 film of the same name, Bruce Willis also plays a man who wants to avenge his wife’s murder. The movie will be released on March 2.
- Middle of Nowhere (2012)
What would you do if your partner were sentenced to eight years in prison? If you’re like Ruby (Emayatzy Corinealdi), the protagonist of Ava DuVernay’s Middle of Nowhere, you wouldn’t hesitate to give up everything—med school, good familial relations, a reasonable work schedule—even if there’s no way your relationship can survive the separation. DuVernay won a well-deserved directing award at the Sundance Film Festival for this compassionate, decidedly nuanced portrayal of a woman struggling to come to terms with her newfound independence. The languorous cinematography, Kathryn Bostic’s ambient score, and Corinealdi’s understated performance all ably capture the sense of aimlessness that hangs over Ruby’s life. And without ever getting as explicitly political as she did in Selma and 13th, DuVernay also provides a searing look at the inequities in America’s criminal justice system.
See it for: DuVernay directed the upcoming film adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. See it in theaters on March 9.
NOTE: Middle of Nowhere is also available on Netflix.
- Easy Rider (1969)
In Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider, Billy (Hopper) and Wyatt (Peter Fonda) are two motorcyclists making a cross-country road trip to New Orleans. On the way, they get arrested, befriend an ACLU lawyer (played by a young, spirited Jack Nicholson)…and regularly find excuses to get high. How much you enjoy this movie depends entirely on whether you think its protagonists are inspiring role models or idiotic bums. But there’s no denying the film’s importance: thanks in no small part to its vintage rock soundtrack, it constitutes the ultimate embodiment of the 60s’ anti-authoritarian zeitgeist. And from a stylistic perspective, the movie’s subversive technique—desultory camera movements, abrupt editing, a studious avoidance of sustained build-ups—makes it one of the standout products of the New Hollywood movement.
See it for: In The Leisure Seeker, Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland play an elderly couple who take a road trip to Florida. It’ll be coming out on March 9.
- sex, lies, and videotape (1989)
Back in 1989, Steven Soderbergh gave the kinky sex genre a major legitimacy boost with sex, lies, and videotape, an indie hit about a sexually frustrated woman (Andie MacDowell) and a man (James Spader) who likes to tape women discussing their sex lives. The movie made a 26-year old Soderbergh the youngest person to ever win the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival—and even today, it’s not hard to see why. Thanks to MacDowell’s sensitive acting and Soderbergh’s penchant for creeping camera movements, the film accurately illustrates the difficulty Westerners have talking about sex: its characters’ awkwardness and deceitfulness will almost certainly leave you wincing. And in both style and substance, the movie refuses to objectify its female characters, thereby repudiating the latent voyeurism that you can find in many parts of classical cinema.
See it for: Soderbergh’s latest movie, Unsane, stars Claire Foy as a paranoid woman who’s convinced that she’s being stalked. See it starting March 23.