‘The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover’
Once upon a time you only needed Netflix Instant (and its by-mail DVD service, too) to feed your cinephilia. That golden age is gone. Since 2012, the online king has lost half of its film content. Not that it was that great to begin with. You could always count the number of titles made before 1970 on a few hands. So if you still prefer movies to TV, hopefully you’ve added the cinephilic FilmStruck to your towering streaming service pile, in part because they stole the Criterion Criterion from Hulu.
Even at only a month-old, the number of wares is daunting — a mix of undying classics and obsurities waiting to be found. Where to begin? Why not Peter Greenaway’s “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover”? Food porn meets softcore meets Grand Guignol in this savage NC-17-a-thon, which contains career peak work from Michael Gambon, as a crook who never shuts up, and Helen Mirren, delivering the rare recognizably human work for a director who likes his actors mannered, quippy and, often, in the buff.
‘Black Snake Moan’
We are a culture obsessed with being woke, sometimes to a fault. When a movie’s problematic, we write outrage pieces. Even when we’re right, we can let our progressive cheerleading get in the way. That’s especially true when it comes to evaluating art. Who knows how many clickbait pieces would be written about “Black Snake Moan” if the Internet was what it is now back in 2007? After all, it concerns a Southern black farmer (Samuel L. Jackson) who chains a gotta-have-it sexpot (Christina Ricci) to a radiator, until she learns to take her lovin’ in moderation. It’s not that it’s not progressive, but it walks a thin line between woke and problematic like a drunk on a tightrope. We love it, especially in 2016.
‘Love & Friendship’
It’s been streaming for a while, but before you tell people what your favorite movies of 2016 have been, make sure you’ve seen — or re-seen — one of the very best. Whit Stillman was already one of the closest the cinema has ever had to a Jane Austen, thanks to the likes of “Metropolitan” and “Barcelona.” So just imagine what it’s like when he finally made his own Austen movie. Based on the posthumously-unearthed teenage work, “Lady Susan,” “Love & Friendship” reunites Stillman with his “Last Days of Disco” barn-burner Kate Beckinsale, who storms through a variety of drawing rooms as a 30-something widow manipulating a coterie of stuffed-shirts, all to score a new (moneyed) man. You won’t be able to tell which one-liner is Austen and which is a Stillman-written soundalike. And you’ll immediate jot down the name Tom Bennett, as a wealthy, giggly fool who steals the show.