One of the great but equally frustrating qualities of Netflix's design is that all movies are presented fairly equally. There is a loose organization based on, I am assuming, algorithms and the weather, but for the most part, you'll find Oscar-winning, critically acclaimed smash hit films nestled right alongside straight-to-DVD flops. It's truly beautiful in its own way. But this unique arrangement does present the challenge of identifying which movies on Netflix might look bad, but are actually amazing.
You know what I'm talking about. It's well known (though perhaps just in my head and not in everyone else's) that the film descriptions and accompany stills from movies do not always most accurately reflect the truth of the movie. The summaries are spoiler-free and loosely gesture toward being accurate plot descriptions, often communicating little about the tone, spirit, and overall feel of a movie. Similarly, the images and fonts that represent the movie are often different than those used during marketing campaigns; sometimes this is great and sometimes it is not. All this leaves viewers to sort out which movies might be secretly great even if they don't look it, because Netflix is absolutely chock-full of surprise treasures. Check out a few of them below.
1'A Long Way Down'
Just scrolling by it on Netflix, A Long Way Down may seem like one of those forgotten movies starring big actors that ended up flopping. It certainly didn't do well with critics. But this dramedy about a group of unlikely friends who meet while all attempting suicide at the same time is lovely and worth your time. It's realer, darker, funnier than you'd expect, and the cast is amazing (Pierce Brosnan, Toni Collette, Aaron Paul, and Imogen Poots).
Wetlands was marketed as a gross-out comedy and it comes off that way in its Netflix image and text too, but do not let that sway you. This was one of the best movies of 2013. It is stunningly stylish, radically feminist, and deeply affecting. No person, but especially no woman, should miss out on watching Wetlands.
3'World's Greatest Dad'
If you think this is a cheesy family comedy, you'd be very, very wrong. World's Greatest Dad is a comedy of the darkest variety, with Robin Williams playing a teacher and father who recasts his son's death by autoerotic asphyxiation as a poetic suicide and writes a fake manifesto for him that goes viral. It's a bold, bleak, and excellent film.
4'Gimme The Loot'
This movie may not look bad on Netflix per se, but its simple presentation and straightforward description don't do it nearly the justice it deserves. Don't scroll by Gimme the Loot, a sweet, crackling, brilliantly realistic piece of filmmaking that captures the magic and frustration of the summertime streets of New York more authentically than many much hipper indie flicks are able to.
With its porn industry premise and the ever-dominating James Franco both in front of and behind the camera, this movie may look a bit too campy and lurid. But King Cobra is anchored by the outstanding, looming presence of Christian Slater, whose performance, especially opposite young Efronesque Garrett Clayton, makes this film well worth a watch.
If you've never heard of Waking Life, the cartoonish way it's presented on Netflix might throw you off, but it's actually a bizarre, inventive, deeply '90s adventure in animation, philosophy, and human nature, full of awesome celebrity cameos and quotable lines that will impress your cool hippie dad.
A cheesy baseball fantasy flick this may be, but it's a cheesy baseball fantasy flick starring Bernie Mac, a comic genius who died far before his time and elevated every film and television show he was in with his peerless energy.
8'The Manchurian Candidate'
This remake was super underrated and will likely get skipped over on Netflix by people who think it can't possibly be worth watching compared to the original. But it doesn't deserve that fate, because a.) Denzel Washington, b.) Liev Schreiber, c.) the plot is cool and creepy and not nearly as far-fetched as we'd like it to be, and d.) Denzel Washington.
9'Anvil! The Story Of Anvil'
Oh, sure, you're probably thinking, a ripoff imitation of This Is Spinal Tap. Mais non, my friend. It's a real documentary about a real band that is almost as absurd as Spinal Tap. But real.
Now, I personally would not register Sing Street as bad if I were scrolling past it on Netflix, but that's because I've seen it and love it and don't understand why it wasn't nominated for several Oscars last year. To other people, it may look cheesy or something. I know, musicals are a hard sell. But it is seriously amazing and will make your heart soar. It's better than La La Land.
11'*batteries not included'
A garbage low-budget '80s sci-fi flick? No, the greatest, sweetest, weirdest, most purely fun low-budget eighties sci-fi flick you've ever seen or will ever hope to see.
I guarantee this forgotten Robin Williams gem, which is ostensibly about toys but also tackles issues such as an out of control military industrial complex and the very nature of being human, is a million times better than it may seem. The art direction alone is just fantastic.
Did you know this small romcom-slash-buddy-comedy starring Leighton Meester and Gillian Jacobs is ten times better and more nuanced and cool than its "she's straight, she's gay, they're friends!" marketing approach makes it seem? It's a great, fun, feel-good movie.
14'Zach And Miri Make A Porno'
Don't let the title throw you off; Zach and Miri Make A Porno is so much sweeter, smarter, and more fun than it might seem, given that it has "porno" in the title. Elizabeth Banks is a total star in it, too.
If you're looking for a unique horror movie that you've never heard of before, turn to Ravenous. It's is a deeply misunderstood and very brilliant and cutting black-comedy-slash horror film that probably could have used a better trailer.
You want Eat, Pray, Love but like, a whole lot better? You want Emilio Estevez directing his father, the absurdly lovable and talented Martin Sheen, in a comedy about the very nature of father-son relationships? You want stunning French countryside? You want your tears jerked hard but not exploitatively? You want The Way. None of these selling points are adequately emphasized in Netflix's presentation of the movie.
Heavyweights may look like one of those poor quality, dime-a-dozen zany comedies from the '90s, but it is something really special. Ben Stiller delivers hardcore comedic villainy, but the real stars are the cast of kids who bring frankness, vulnerability, and pure hilarity (hello, young Kenan Thompson) to their roles as outsiders and underdogs.
Once you've watched all of these, go dig for your own hidden Netflix treasures. They're out there.