Top hidden gems you (probably) haven’t seen on Netflix UK
Matthew Turner | On 28, Nov 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.
Carrie Pilby (2016)
Based on the novel by Caren Lissner and directed by Susan Johnson, this utterly charming comedy-drama stars Bel Powley as Carrie Pilby, a socially awkward, highly intelligent 19 year-old who begrudgingly takes the advice of her therapist (an excellent Nathan Lane) and attempts to tick a few simple goals off a list, such as going on a date, making a friend and doing something that made her happy as a child. Powley’s performance here is every bit as assured as her turn in The Diary of a Teenage Girl, consistently unearthing unexpected and touching layers in what could have been just the standard quirky girl performance. (She also nails the rather specific accent, perfectly capturing a Londoner who’s been raised in New York). In addition, the dialogue is often very funny and there’s strong comic support from Vanessa Bayer (as an over-sharing co-worker) and Jason Ritter as Carrie’s blind date.
Small Crimes (2017)
An intriguing collaboration between Evan Katz (Cheap Thrills) and Macon Blair (Blue Ruin) – they co-wrote the script and Katz directed – this small-town thriller stars Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Joe, a former dirty cop who gets out of prison after a six year stretch and tries to avoid being pulled back into the corruption and criminality that got him put away in the first place. Katz and Blair don’t exactly have the rosiest of world-views and the plot is extremely dark as a result, heightened by some atmospheric production design work and a splendidly world-weary performance from Coster-Waldau. The supporting turns are spot-on too, particularly Pat Healy as a psychotic mobster and the reliably excellent Gary Cole as a fellow dirty cop who may or may not have Joe’s best interests at heart. Read our full review
Side Effects (2013)
This deliciously dark and twisted thriller from Steven Soderbergh is one of those films where the less you know about it going in, the better. Suffice it to say that Jude Law delivers one of his best performances to date as a psychiatrist investigating the connection between a new anti-depressant and a violent crime committed by one of his patients (a jaw-droppingly brilliant Rooney Mara). Soderbergh’s control of the material throughout is masterful, transforming what could have been a routine, trashy thriller into something genuinely exciting and unpredictable. A fabulously slinky Catherine Zeta-Jones (as Mara’s former doctor) is the icing on an already delicious cake. Read our full review
Anvil: The Story of Anvil (2009)
By turns laugh-out-loud funny and genuinely moving, this wonderful rock-doc from former Anvil roadie Sacha Gervasi plays like a real-life version of Spinal Tap. It follows Canadian metal “demigods” Anvil, who had a brief taste of fame in the 1980s, before fading into obscurity. However, the band (best friends Steve ‘Lips’ Kudlow and the coincidentally-named Robb Reiner) are still going and the film tags along as they embark on a disastrous European tour, record their 13th album and head to Tokyo to play a metal festival. At times, this is so Tap-like it’s almost painful to watch, but the friendship between the two men (coupled with their obvious love of the music) is enormously touching and it’s impossible to come away from this without a huge smile on your face.
Co-directed by Elyse Steinberg and Josh Kriegman, this gripping, fly-on-the-wall documentary follows disgraced Congressman Anthony Weiner as he embarks on a bid to become Mayor of New York, two years after a sexting scandal forced his resignation. At first, he appears to be winning over voters, but then a new wave of sexting revelations emerges, dealing his campaign a powerful blow. Weiner emerges as a fascinating and complex figure, at once a gifted and passionate politician, yet continually undone by his own seemingly compulsive indiscretions. Offering a refreshingly non-judgemental stance, the film is utterly riveting, operating simultaneously as an intimate character study, a thrilling behind-the-scenes look at a troubled political campaign and a scathing indictment of the state of political journalism in the USA. Read our interview with the film’s directors, our our full review here.
Youth in Revolt (2009)
Delightfully dark teen comedy based on the cult novel by C.D. Payne, starring Michael Cera as sex-obsessed teenager Nick Twisp, whose lust for the delectable Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday) quickly gets him into trouble, after he creates a rebellious bad boy alter-ego, named Francois (also Cera). Director Miguel Arteta (Chuck & Buck) faithfully captures the book’s blackly comic, occasionally nihilistic tone, there’s a superb supporting cast and Cera delivers two of his best performances as Nick / Francois. Read our full review
Strongly reminiscent of Shane Carruth’s Primer and a testament to low-budget filmmaking, this smartly scripted indie mind-bender marks an impressive and promising debut for writer-director James Ward Byrkit. The plot involves a group of dinner-partying friends (including former Buffy star Nicholas Brendon), who experience strange goings-on after some comet activity – although to say any more would be to spoil the delightfully weird surprises of this thoroughly enjoyable slice of stripped-down sci-fi. Read our full review
The Man From The Future (2011)
If you’ve watched Narcos, it’s impossible to watch this enjoyable fantasy comedy without thinking of it as Groundhog Day with Pablo Escobar. A pre-Narcos Wagner Moura stars as Zero, a brilliant but disillusioned scientist who accidentally invents a time machine and decides to use it to avoid a humiliating incident in his past by giving his younger self some valuable advice. The film is brimming with ideas and writer-director Claudio Torres strikes exactly the right comic tone, having fun with the sense of escalating farce while still finding poignant emotion in the film’s underlying message. Similarly, Moura’s deadpan face proves a perfect fit for this particular comic vehicle (he’s very Bill Murray-esque) and there’s engaging support from Alinne Moraes as his college dream girl.
Sing Street (2016)
This utterly charming coming-of-age musical is written and directed by John Carney, the man behind Once (2007) and Begin Again (2013), so you know you’re in safe hands. Set in the 1980s, it stars newcomer Ferdia Walsh-Peelo as Conor, a 15 year-old Dublin schoolboy who forms a band in order to impress achingly cool older girl Raphina (Lucy Boynton). Combining catchy songs, compelling characters and a blast of 1980s nostalgia, this is a beautifully acted, laugh-out-loud funny drama that plays like a companion piece to The Commitments and will have you grinning like an idiot for days on end. Read our full review
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.
Love & Friendship (2016)
If there were any justice in the universe, Kate Beckinsale would have been Oscar-nominated for her career-best turn in this deliciously witty Jane Austen adaptation from writer-director Whit Stilman (with whom Beckinsale previously made The Last Days of Disco, alongside L&F co-star Chloe Sevigny). As the seductive and manipulative Lady Susan, she schemes to win the heart of a wealthy bachelor (Xavier Samuel), originally intended as a suitor for her own daughter. Stilman’s script crackles with delectable dialogue and there’s a wonderful, film-stealing comic performance from rising star Tom Bennett as chuckle-headed aristocrat Sir James Martin. Read our full review
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.
Skilfully blending dramatic reconstruction (overlaid with rotoscope animation), archive footage and present day survivor testimony, director Keith Maitland’s powerful documentary details a shot-by-shot account of the 1966 University of Texas Tower Shooting, during which a sniper opened fire on the people below for a terrifying 96 minutes. Cutting between several different perspectives, Maitland achieves a nail-biting immediacy, while the accounts that emerge from the various witnesses are utterly devastating. One story, in particular – the quiet heroism of Rita Starpattern, who risked her own life to save an injured pregnant woman – will stay with you a very, very long time.
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.
Little Sister (2016)
Written and directed by Zach Clark, this sweetly cynical indie stars Addison Timlin as a former Goth-turned-soon-to-be nun visiting her estranged family, including her strung-out mother (Ally Sheedy, effectively playing a grown-up version of her Breakfast Club character) and her recently-returned soldier brother (Keith Poulson) who’s been left severely disfigured after an IED explosion. Clark has a knack for caustic dialogue and occasionally close-to-the-bone humour, but he’s also adept at portraying fraught, but loving relationships and the cumulative effect is both darkly funny and quietly moving. There’s also a great synth score, if you like that sort of thing.
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. Read our full review
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.
Debut director Houda Benyamina won the Camera d’Or at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival for this superb crime drama-slash-coming-of-ager that plays like a cross between La Haine and Girlhood. Newcomers Oulaya Amamra and Déborah Lukumuena star as a pair of 15 year-old best friends who decide that the fastest way out of their run-down, outskirts-of-Paris neighbourhood lies in going to work for their local drug dealer. Benyamina draws terrific performances from her two young leads, while her stylish direction (which extends to some exceptional sound design work) marks her out as an exciting new talent to watch. Read our full review
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.
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. Read our full review
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. Read our full review
Liberal Arts (2012)
Written and directed by How I Met Your Mother star Josh Radnor, this charming coming-of-middle-age comedy centres on Jesse (Radnor), a stuck-in-a-rut 30-something who strikes up a friendship with 19 year-old theatre student Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen) when he visits his old university. Radnor’s warm-hearted script has a nice line in misty-eyed nostalgia (while acknowledging that’s not necessarily a good thing) and convincingly portrays the excitement of connecting with somebody new. In addition, the dialogue is frequently funny and Radnor sparks likeable chemistry with Olsen. The superb supporting cast also includes Zac Efron, Richard Jenkins and the ever-wonderful Allison Janney, who’s laugh-out-loud funny as a lusty lit lecturer. Read our full review
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. Read our full review
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.
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 Squid and the Whale (2005)
Written and directed by Noah Baumbach, this moving and hilarious drama is essentially a semi-autobiographical account of the divorce of Baumbach’s own parents, novelist Jonathan Baumbach and critic Georgia Brown. Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney play the author parents who begin divorce proceedings, with their two sons (Jesse Eisenberg as teenage Walt and Owen Kline – son of Kevin – as 12 year old Frank) quick to take sides. The performances are fantastic across the board and Baumbach’s deservedly Oscar-nominated script is packed with hilarious dialogue – Frank’s adventures in swearing are a particular comic highlight. Baumbach also pulls off a remarkable balancing act – it’s hard to think of any other film that can make you laugh so hard while also being so desperately, painfully sad. A wonderful film. Read our full review.