🎵What to Watch, #22

Russian Doll, a podcast, and a Netflix vs. festivals update

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Every Monday for the past eight years I’ve been listening to the same music podcast. I get to work early to enjoy the full episode before doing anything else - it’s a great way to get excited for Mondays instead of dreading them.

That podcast is KEXP’s Music that Matters. I recommend picking one by Cheryl Waters (like Vol. 650), every episode features her 30-plus years of music experience distilled into an hour of the best and latest music.

A lot of times I would recognize some of her picks from the radio or a Spotify playlist, but it would mean that much more to me if she had picked them.

The love, curation, and humanity that go into Music that Matters is what we try to replicate with this e-mail every week. In the short five-year history of agoodmovietowatch.com, we’ve never been pickier about anything more than the recommendations featured here. We want it to be a recurrent and trusted break in your week, whether you’ve heard of the titles or not.

So even if Netflix algorithms have already shown you Russian Doll - we’re happy to present you with a human-to-human recommendation. We loved it and we think you will too.


OUR TOP TV SHOW OF THE WEEK

Russian Doll

Nadia is a game developer and proud aging hipster living in New York. Her story starts at her thirty-sixth birthday party looking at herself in the bathroom mirror. On her way out, she finds a friend who hands her a joint laced with cocaine, “that’s how the Israelis do it” her friend says.

Nadia hooks up with a guy and they stop at a bodega on the way back to her place. So far everything seems normal (in a New York-hipster kind of way). But on her way out of the bodega, she is hit by a car and dies. The story restarts, at the same birthday party, staring at herself in the mirror.

—Illustration by @hermitdraws for our newsletter—

Russian Doll can be summarized in what Nadia screams later that night: “the universe is trying to f*ck with me, and I refuse to engage”. Her strong personality and the events that happen to her allow the show to explore themes of vulnerability, trauma, and even life and death. Russian Doll repeats almost every episode, but its originality and plot twists make it more refreshing with every repeat.

This rhythm takes some quick getting used to, but the moment you do you will not be able to look away. Natasha Lyonne from Orange is the New Black is masterful at playing Nadia. She co-created the show with Amy Poehler and Sleeping With Other People director, Leslye Headland. She packs a lot of the originality and character that possibly makes Russian Doll the most fun and original show you will watch in 2019.

📺 on Netflix everywhere; 🍅 rating: 95%


OUR TOP TV MOVIE OF THE WEEK

Paterson

Paterson is an essential film in director Jim Jarmusch’s catalog (next to Broken FlowersOnly Lovers Left AliveCoffee and CigarettesStranger Than Paradise to name just a few). In his traditional directing fashion, Paterson disregards plot to find inspiration in deconstructing the seemingly mundane aspects of life.

Adam Driver stars as a bus driver and amateur poet who leads a content life. To him, this is done by embracing routine and avoiding change as much as possible. His girlfriend, Laura (played by the fabulous Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani), is the complete opposite. She is eager to explore new paths, to be creative, and to decorate and design every object in her life.

It might seem like the groundwork for conflict, but Jarmusch takes these two characters, adds only a few others, and makes a movie that celebrates similar so-called simple lives. The main characters' relationship is used not to illustrate conflict but to see through it and find its beauty.

Again, not much happens in terms of plot, and the pace is slow. But if you are interested in the kind of movie that will give you a window into people’s lives, you will love Paterson.

📺 on Amazon Prime; 🍅 rating: 82%


Readers’ top three picks

  • The Netflix documentary Fyre is our readers’ top pick this week, and probably your coworkers’ as well. It tells the story of a music festival that turned into a nightmare after people trusted Ja Rule and his party friend with more than $20 million dollars in investment.

  • Sneaky Pete on Amazon Prime is our readers’ second choice. It was a recent pick of the newsletter and allowed us to use ambiguous expressions like “cut-throat gripping” when describing it. It’s a great show, don’t miss it.

  • Kill the Messenger, a movie that surfaced on Netflix recently, gets our readers’ bronze medal. It stars Jeremy Renner as an investigative journalist in a true story that uncovered some of the CIA’s illegal activities in Latin America.


New titles worth your time

  • High Flying Bird is a highly anticipated movie that premieres on Netflix today. It’s directed by one Oscar winner, Steven Soderbergh (Traffic) and written by another, Tarell Alvin McCraney (Moonlight). The story is about a sports agent that involved a rookie in his scheme to exploit a loophole in pro basketball. 
    Another heads-up, One Day at a Time, the Netflix remake of the classic Cuban-American sitcomcomes back for season three today. 

  • Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot is another anticipated movie that premieres today, this time on Amazon Prime.

    Its star-packed cast includes Joaquin Phoenix, Rooney Mara, and Jonah Hill in a story about recovering from alcohol addiction. Perhaps even more notably, it is directed by Gus Van Sant (Finding ForresterMilk).


Great titles that will soon expire

  • On Netflix, the hit movie Atonement expires next Friday. It’s a drama about a thirteen-year-old who accuses her older sister’s boyfriend of a crime he didn’t commit. Watch it for its amazing performances, especially the lead, Keira Knightley. Based on the Ian McEwan novel of the same name.

  • No notable titles expiring on Amazon Prime this week.


Berlinale update: Netflix vs. Festivals

Long read.

When Alfonso Cuaron’s ROMA won the Golden Lion at the Venise Film Festival a few months ago, critics called the event “deplorable”. They had no issues with the movie itself, which most of them loved, their quarrel was that it was backed by Netflix.

More precisely, what industry professionals don’t approve of is the lack of theatrical screening in Europe (the movie did air extensively in the U.S. to avoid an Oscar snub). To them, people like Alfonso Cuaron make movies so that they’re seen on a big screen and by anyone. Anything else, including limiting the screening to Netflix subscribers, is disrespectful to cinema.

To be fair, Netflix had very good reasons not to air ROMA in Europe. In France for example, the law states that once a movie is shown in the cinema it has to wait 36 months before it’s available for streaming or DVD release (this law aims at boosting cinema attendance). Netflix was obviously not going to allow this, it has four million users in France alone.

This year at Berlinale is director Dieter Kosslick’s last edition. He is credited with the festival’s big success in his eight-year tenure and of never shying away from controversial topics. So much so that the Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu wrote a letter to the German Chancellor to ask that funding be withdrawn for the festival because Kosslick screened Israeli movies that allude to supporting Palestine.

And so, on his last year, he’s coming out with a bang. His festival has invited a Netflix flick for the first time in its history: the Spanish movie Elisa y Marcela from renown director Isabelle Coixet.

As the film nerds running this newsletter, we are stuck in between worlds. We’re not “industry professionals” (we prefer “industry enthusiasts”), and we’re definitely not going to side with Netflix. Our take on the controversy is this: both industry professionals and Netflix are heavily biased.

Did you know that the two-hour movie format was imposed by theater lobbies so that they can slot more movies in one night? There is no reason every movie should be almost exactly that length. And that’s the kind of lobbying and intrusion into filmmakers’ creativity that industry professionals can cause.

In distribution, laws like the French one we mentioned above are common across the world to boost ticket sales. Industry professionals are in no way in high moral grounds.

On the other hand, Netflix shares information with no one, not even viewing stats, and not even to the filmmakers or producers. It’s also a new-age start-up which means that it’s more interested in getting your attention and using phrases like “disrupting the market” than seeing movies as an art form.

One voice that is rarely heard in this debate might be the one it concerns most: filmmakers. At the opening ceremony of the Berlinale, Oscar-winning Chilean director Sebastian Lelio put it perfectly: “Film is not digital, it’s a language. As long as it keeps being spoken, it will be alive”. To him, Netflix is both “an opportunity and a challenge”. The question is not so much if Netflix is threatening theater sales, it’s whether it’s threatening movies themselves. Netflix presents a clear preference for TV Shows over movies, and of big-budget releases (Bright, Big Bird, etcover smaller substance-oriented productions.

In any case, we can’t wait until the screening of Elisa y Marcela, and we’re secretly hoping for some hot questions to pop up. Industry-enthusiast style.


That’s it for this week folks, I hope there is something in there for you.

The next edition will be in your inbox on Friday, Feb. 14. Greet it with chocolates and roses.

Until then,

Bilal

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