Top hidden gems you (probably) haven’t seen on Netflix UK
Matthew Turner | On 17, Jan 2017
Stuck with that tricky “What should I watch next on Netflix?” decision? With the streaming service adding new titles all the time, it’s increasingly difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff. Fortunately, help is at hand, as there’s nothing we love more at VODzilla.co than throwing some great film recommendations your way. Here then, are Netflix UK’s best hidden gems.
This list will be updated regularly to reflect new releases and removals.
The Daughter (2015)
Acclaimed theatre director Simon Stone transposes Ibsen’s play The Wild Duck to modern-day Australia in this powerfully emotional drama that will leave you gasping for breath. When U.S.-based Christian (Paul Schneider) returns to his home town for the wedding of his estranged father (Geoffrey Rush), he uncovers a devastating secret that leads to a chain of horrific consequences for the family of his former best friend (Ewen Leslie). The performances are uniformly terrific (particularly newcomer Odessa Young as the daughter of the title) and Stone’s control of the material is masterful throughout, cranking up the tension to near-unbearable levels before unleashing a devastating emotional onslaught. Read our full review.
The Overnighters (2014)
Jesse Moss’ powerful documentary focuses on kind-hearted pastor Jay Reinke, who opens the doors of his church to the hundreds of men who come to North Dakota seeking work in the fracking industry, only to find themselves homeless and desperate. In doing so, however, Reinke soon finds himself facing waves of increasingly hostile opposition from his congregation, his community and even his own family. Those events in themselves are powerful enough, but the story takes an unexpected twist that raises some provocative and uncomfortable questions. A powerful gut-punch of a film that’s simultaneously inspirational and yet deeply, soul-crushingly depressing.
The textbook definition of an under-the-radar gem, this unsettling found footage horror stars co-writer-director Patrick Brice as a videographer who answers a Craigslist ad for a one-day job. When he arrives at his remote mountain town destination he finds that the creepy client, Josef (co-writer Mark Duplass), has a series of increasingly unusual requests, and he begins to suspect that all is not what it seems. Effectively a two-hander, the film is heightened by an appropriately tense chemistry between Brice and Duplass, while the clever script finds some interesting ways to pay off the found footage conceit. Read our full review.
The End of the Tour (2015)
Directed by James Ponsoldt, this engrossing and rewarding two-hander is based on a real-life two-day interview between Rolling Stone journalist David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) and acclaimed novelist David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel), as detailed in Lipsky’s subsequent memoir. Eisenberg’s brand of neurotic intensity makes him perfect for Lipsky, but Segel is the real surprise, delivering a career-best performance that couples wry humour and haunting fragility (the author’s eventual suicide casts a significant shadow throughout the film). Effectively two hours of stimulating conversation, this is a refreshingly intellectual comedy that also contains some startlingly profound insights into loneliness, professional jealousy and artistic ambition. Don’t miss it.
The Invitation (2015)
This powerfully intense psychological thriller serves as a masterclass in building suspense. When Will (Logan Marshall-Green) takes his new girlfriend (Emayatzy Corinealdi) to an LA dinner party at the house of his ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard), he becomes increasingly paranoid about the real reasons for his invitation, especially after Eden and her new partner (Michiel Huisman) reveal they are members of a happiness cult. The performances are superb and the cleverly structured script does a terrific job of creating and sustaining tension, gradually moving from the excruciating uncomfortableness of an awkward dinner party to something much more sinister.
Josie and the Pussycats (2001)
Based on a group of characters from Archie comics that were given their own short-lived Hanna-Barbera cartoon, this charming and hilarious 2001 comedy stars Rachael Leigh Cook, Rosario Dawson and Tara Reid as the titular girl band, who are thrilled when they get hired by a record producer (Alan Cumming), but quickly discover that they’re being used in a plot to brainwash teenagers with subliminal messages. Featuring terrific performances, catchy songs (Backdoor Lover by aptly-named boy band Du Jour is one of several comic highlights) and razor sharp satire, this is a candy-coloured treat from beginning to end.
The Boxtrolls (2014)
This charming stop-motion children’s adventure from animation studio Laika (Coraline, ParaNorman) is a delightfully imaginative and beautifully designed tale about a boy who is kidnapped as a baby and grows up thinking he’s a boxtroll (literally, a race of trolls who wear boxes and have names like Fish, Knickers, Shoe, Wheels and Bucket). Stuffed full of wonderful details that will reward endless rewatches, the film also boasts some top-notch voice work, particularly from Ben Kingsley as hissable villain Archibald Snatcher. Whatever you do, don’t switch off before the fabulous mid-credits sting.
Project Nim (2011)
Director James Marsh’s hugely entertaining follow-up to Man on Wire tells the fascinating story of Nim, a chimpanzee who’s raised as human by a succession of different carers, after moustachioed Columbia professor Herb Terrace theorises that a chimp raised with a human family might be able to learn sign language. Blending dramatic reconstruction, some astonishing archive footage and remarkably candid interviews with all the main players, this is by turns laugh-out-loud funny, shocking, terrifying, thought-provoking and deeply moving, with a frankly jaw-dropping collection of twists and turns and some intriguing points to make about both animal and human behaviour.
You Can Count On Me (2000)
Playwright Kenneth Lonergan made his directorial debut with this powerfully moving small-town story that, unusually for a mainstream drama, centres on a sibling relationship. Laura Linney stars as a divorced single mother whose stable-if-unsatisfactory life is shaken up by the sudden reappearance of her ne’er-do-well brother (Mark Ruffalo) after a long absence. Brilliantly acted (Linney received an Oscar nomination) and painfully honest in its depiction of complex, realistic relationships, this is a richly rewarding drama that leaves a lasting emotional impact.
Man vs Snake: The Long and Twisted Tale of Nibbler (2015)
This likeable documentary from co-directors Tim Kinzy and Andy Seklir plays like a spiritual successor to 2007’s unmissable gaming rivalry doc The King of Kong. As a teenager, Tim McVey became the first person to score over a billion points on the arcade game Nibbler. Now, nearly 30 years later, he attempts to defend his record when challenged by cocky rival Dwayne Richard. Packed with colourful characters, the film is further enlivened by the use of animated flashbacks and it’s oddly reassuring to discover that The King of Kong’s Billy Mitchell is still as slimy as ever.
This wonderful sci-fi comedy from director Jon Wright and writer Kevin Lehane has an irresistible set-up – when a race of invading, blood-sucking aliens are discovered to be allergic to alcohol, the inhabitants of remote Erin Island (off the coast of Ireland) stage a lock-in at the local pub, while a pair of bickering cops (Richard Coyle and Ruth Bradley, both delightful) attempt to destroy the tentacled monsters. With a funny script, superb special effects and colourful characters, this is a hugely entertaining creature feature that plays like Tremors meets Father Ted.
Appropriate Behaviour (2014)
If you’re a fan of HBO’s Girls, you should definitely check out this very funny New York indie debut from writer-director-star Desiree Akhavan. She plays Shirin, an Iranian-American hipster trying to get back into the NY dating scene after a split from her long-term girlfriend (Rebecca Henderson). The sharply observed script is warm-hearted, funny and quietly moving, while Akhavan proves a genuine talent, combining perfect comic timing with a mesmerising quality on screen that makes her somehow simultaneously achingly vulnerable, deadpan sarcastic, dorky-looking, and stunningly beautiful, often in the same scene.
The Way He Looks (2014)
This delightful coming-of-ager marks an impressive debut for Brazilian writer-director Daniel Ribeiro. The story sees blind student Leonardo (Ghilherme Lobo) falling for his new classmate, Gabriel (Fabio Audi), which, in turn, complicates his relationship with best friend Giovana (Tess Amorim). The brilliantly written script sensitively explores blindness, friendship and sexual identity, while the performances are utterly charming, making this a supremely enjoyable, achingly romantic treat that’s up there with the very best teen movies.
Winter’s Bone (2010)
Before Jennifer Lawrence was Katniss Everdeen, she was Ree Dolly, in this compelling slice of country noir, based on the novel by Daniel Woodrell. Set in the remote Missouri Ozarks, the film sees 17 year-old Ree stirring up trouble, when she tries to track down her bail-skipping father before the courts seize her family home. Structured like a traditional detective story and featuring an Oscar-nominated performance from Lawrence, this is a thoroughly absorbing thriller that exerts a tight emotional grip.
Charlie Bartlett (2007)
This smart teen comedy from director Jon Poll stands as a worthy tribute to actor Anton Yelchin, whose accidental death earlier this year robbed Hollywood of one of its brightest young talents. Yelchin delivers one of his best performances as a bullied rich kid, who becomes a self-appointed psychiatrist-slash-pharmaceutical drug dispenser to the students at his new school. Gustin Nash’s witty script is packed with great dialogue and weirdly offbeat scenes and there’s terrific work from a supporting cast that includes Robert Downey Jr, Hope Davies and Kat Dennings.
Open Range (2003)
Largely overlooked on its UK theatrical release, this straight-shooting, traditional western is arguably one of Kevin Costner’s best films, both as director and actor. He plays Charley Waite, a guilt-ridden former Civil War soldier who’s forced to take up arms again when his friend and cattle crew boss (Robert Duvall) is threatened by a corrupt land baron (Michael Gambon). Beautifully shot and rich in both character and thematic detail, this is a thoroughly enjoyable horse opera that builds to a terrific final shoot-out.
The One I Love (2014)
Cruelly denied a UK theatrical release, director Charlie McDowell’s impressive feature debut is a sharply observed, cleverly written relationship drama with a Twilight Zone twist. On the advice of their therapist (Ted Danson), troubled couple Ethan and Sophie (Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss) attend a secluded retreat and stay in separate guest houses in the hopes of saving their marriage, but events soon take a bizarre turn. Moss and Duplass have striking chemistry and deliver complex, multi-layered performances, while the thought-provoking script blends mystery and emotion to memorable effect.
This fascinating and frequently hilarious documentary from director Errol Morris explores The Case of the Manacled Mormon, a lurid tale that gripped British tabloids in 1977. The story focuses on former Wyoming beauty queen Joyce McKinney, who hit the headlines when she kidnapped her Mormon lover, chained him to a bed and forced him to have sex with her. Interspersing to-camera interviews with expertly assembled archive material, Morris tells a riveting story that’s consistently surprising, with a pair of bizarre closing turns that will leave your jaw on the floor.
In a World… (2013)
Comic actress Lake Bell made an impressive writing and directing debut with this engaging and frequently funny comedy set in the cutthroat world of the voiceover industry. She plays Carol, a talented but underachieving voice coach who enters into a fierce rivalry with her pompous, industry-bestriding father (a pitch-perfect Fred Melamed), when they’re both in the running for a voiceover job on a new trailer. Bell delivers an enormously likeable performance, while the script finds intriguing ways to explore women-in-a-male-dominated-business issues without recourse to clichés. There’s also a terrific supporting cast, with Bell’s generous script giving each of them their moment to shine.
Written and directed by Stacie Passon, this intriguing drama hands a gift of a lead role to actress Robin Weigert, hitherto best known for playing Calamity Jane on HBO’s Deadwood. She plays Abby, a bored lesbian housewife who sets herself up as a prostitute servicing other women, following an accidental blow to the head. Weigert delivers a complex, layered performance and the pleasingly unpredictable script explores provocative themes of identity and sexuality as her new job unearths various different sides of her character.
The Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015)
Based on the semi-autobiographical graphic-and-prose novel by Phoebe Gloeckner, this compelling and accomplished coming-of-ager from writer-director Marielle Heller casts rising British star Bel Powley as 15 year-old Minnie, an aspiring artist living in 1970s San Francisco, who begins an affair with her mother’s (Kristin Wiig) boyfriend, dopey 35 year-old man-child Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard). Drawing justifiable comparisons with Ghost World, the film treats its uncomfortable subject with a refreshing frankness and a refusal to judge, while Powley is a revelation as Minnie, delivering a fearless and fascinatingly complex performance that marks her out as a serious talent to watch.
The Burning Plain (2008)
The directorial debut of screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga (Amores Perros, 21 Grams) unfolds in his trademarked fractured narrative style, with a number of seemingly unrelated stories gradually shedding light on the central story of a restaurant manager (Charlize Theron) haunted by her tragic past. The out-of-sequence timeline provides an intriguing, fun-to-solve puzzle and the script explores emotive themes of guilt, responsibility and forbidden love, bolstered by terrific performances from Theron, Kim Basinger and a then unknown Jennifer Lawrence.
The Queen of Versailles (2012)
Lauren Greenfield’s hugely entertaining riches-to-rags documentary explores the unexpected impact of the financial crisis on one of America’s richest families, namely 74 year-old Florida billionaire David Siegel, his trophy wife, Jackie (43), and their eight kids. Given that the film was originally intended as a straightforward portrait, the Siegels were extraordinarily generous in allowing Greenfield’s cameras to record their post-crisis descent into catastrophe and the results are both endlessly fascinating and unexpectedly moving.
Young Adult (2011)
If there were any justice in the world, Charlize Theron would have received an Oscar nomination for her performance in this criminally overlooked black comedy that reunites Juno scriptwriter Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman. Theron plays Mavis, a messed-up teen fiction novelist who returns to her home town with the intention of winning back her happily married high-school sweetheart (Patrick Wilson). With its surprisingly dark comedy firmly rooted in the characters, the film has a lot of fun subverting rom-com tropes and remains refreshingly unpredictable throughout.
Slow West (2015)
Set in 1880s Colorado, this stylish western stars Kodi Smit-McPhee as a naïve Scottish teenager, who receives protection from a skilled frontiersman (Michael Fassbender), as he searches for the woman he loves (Caren Pistorius), unaware that there’s a price on her head that his companion intends to collect. Scottish musician John Maclean directs with an obvious love of the genre and the film is packed with memorable scenes, culminating in one of the best climactic shoot-outs in recent memory. All that, plus Michael Fassbender wearing the hell out of a cowboy hat.