Top hidden gems you (probably) haven’t seen on Netflix UK
Matthew Turner | On 01, Apr 2018
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.
Princess Cyd (2017)
This gorgeous female coming-of-age drama is an utter joy from beginning to end. Written and directed by Stephen Cone, it centres on 16 year old Cyd (Jessie Pinnick), who comes to live with her aunt, Miranda (Rebecca Spence) in suburban Chicago for the summer, following an unspecified falling out with her widowed father. The details of their slowly forged relationship are exquisitely observed, with both women delivering performances that are complex, charming and consistently surprising. If you liked Lady Bird, you’ll fall madly in love with Princess Cyd. Seriously, don’t miss it – it’s quite possibly the best film you’ll see all year.
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.
‘Where can you get a reasonably priced abortion these days?’ That’s the question posed by Lily Tomlin’s eponymous grandmother in this wonderful indie comedy-drama from writer-director Paul Weitz. The veteran comic actress plays 75 year-old Elle Reid, an outspoken, misanthropic lesbian poet who agrees to help her frizzy-haired teenage granddaughter (Julia Garner) raise the $600 she needs for the aforementioned termination. Weitz wrote the role of Elle with Tomlin in mind and she delivers a career best performance, tossing off delightfully caustic one-liners and generating sparky chemistry with Garner, as well as a colourful supporting cast that includes Sam Elliott, Judy Greer and Marcia Gay Harden. Heart-warming and laugh-out-loud funny.
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.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (2015)
Guy Ritchie’s super-fun take on the 1960s spy series received an inexplicably lukewarm response on its theatrical release, but is ripe for reappraisal. Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer play Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin, two suave secret agents from opposite sides of the Iron Curtain who are forced to work together to foil a Nazi plot, aided by Alicia Vikander’s German mechanic. The performances are delightful and Ritchie’s stylish direction is consistently inventive, resulting in some highly entertaining set-pieces. Heightened by a witty script, some superlative production design work and one of the decade’s best soundtracks, this is a pleasingly old-fashioned spy movie pastiche that’s better than a number of recent Bonds.
Former Home and Away star Melissa George delivers a career-best performance in this delightfully twisty time-bender from British writer-director Christopher Smith (Severance). She stars as Jess, a single mother who becomes trapped in a terrifying, yet oddly familiar, cycle of violence, when she and her friends (including a pre-fame Liam Hemsworth) are rescued by a seemingly deserted ocean liner after their boat capsizes. Cleverly blending elements of The Shining, Timecrimes and Titanic (with a dash of Groundhog Day), Triangle delivers some superb shocks, with moments and images that are genuinely haunting and surprisingly moving.
“Sometimes it’s okay to destroy things for fun.” Into the Badlands’ Sarah Bolger delivers a supremely creepy performance as the babysitter-from-hell in this unbearably suspenseful and properly chilling horror from music video director Michael Thelin. The script is perfectly paced, with Thelin slowly ratcheting up the tension as Bolger’s behaviour with her young charges (a trio of impressively naturalistic performances from Joshua Rush, Carly Adams and Thomas Bair) gets more and more unsettling. A word of advice: don’t get too attached to scene-stealing hamster Admiral Wobbles.
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.
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.
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.
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 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
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.