Top hidden gems you (probably) haven’t seen on Netflix UK
Matthew Turner | On 16, Apr 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.
What We Do In The Shadows (2014)
Co-directed by Flight of the Conchords collaborators Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, this hilarious mock-doc centres on a group of bickering vampires (primarily Clement, Waititi and Jonathon Brugh) sharing a flat in modern day New Zealand. Made with obvious affection for the vampire genre, this is packed with quotable lines and brilliant sight gags, ensuring big laughs in every scene. Wonderful.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.