Instant Gratification: “Any Day Now” and four other good movies to watch on Netflix right now

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Every Tuesday, the Instant Gratification column gives you five recommendations for movies that have recently started streaming on Netflix Instant. Sometimes we go way off the beaten path — sometimes we stay right on it.

Pick of the week: “Any Day Now” — Alan Cumming and Garret Dillahunt star in this well-acted drama about a gay couple in 1970s Los Angeles who try to adopt a homeless teen with Down’s syndrome, only to encounter a wave of official prejudice. Aside from being a moving film, it’s a testament to how far gay rights have come in America in the last 30 years, and how far we still have to go.

Children’s movie of the week: “Mulan” — Netflix just added several Disney films to the lineup, and the best of them is this rousing adventure from 1997, in which a Chinese girl (Ming-Na Wen) has to save her father’s kingdom. I thought Eddie Murphy as the wisecracking dragon was funnier than Eddie Murphy as the wisecracking donkey in all the Shrek movies.

Documentary of the week: “Happy People: A Year in the Taiga” — Werner Herzog recut and narrated this Russian documentary about people living in remote, brutal Siberia, using survival techniques not much different from their ancestors a century before. We’ll take your word for it that they’re happy, Werner.

Blockbuster of the week: “The Avengers” — Joss Whedon delivered an incredibly fun superhero that was greater than the sum of its parts, mixing eye-popping action with humor and a genuine amount of emotion. The actors work as smoothly together as the heroes must, and Tom Hiddleston is a blast as the sinister Loki.

Comedy of the week: “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” — Not really a kids’ movie, but they’ll probably like this 1988 spin on classic noir, in which humans and Toons live side by side, and a private eye (Bob Hoskins) gets drawn into both worlds in late ’40s Hollywood.

“Any Day Now”: I see my light come shining

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Any Day Now” opens Friday at Sundance Cinemas; R, 1;37, three stars. I will host a post-show chat after the film’s 6:50 p.m. Tuesday screening.

“Any Day Now” has so many ways to break your heart that it seems less a question whether Travis Fine’s indie drama will do it, but how. This is a sensitively-acted film that engages directly with several “issues” that resonate on today’s op-ed pages — gay adoption, treatment of people with disabilities — but does so without being didactic or preachy.

The setting is California in the late 1970s, and Rudy (Alan Cumming) is a drag queen who dreams of a singing career, his fleabag apartment a marked contrast to his glamorous day job. Rudy meets a closeted assistant district attorney named Paul, who seems as uncomfortable as his skin as Rudy is at ease in his. They hook up, but are a little surprised to find that not only are they attracted to each other, they like each other, and a relationship starts.

One night, Rudy sees that his junkie neighbor is neglecting her son, a teenage boy with Down syndrome named Marco (Isaac Leyva). On a whim of goodwill, he takes Marco in for the night, and then when the mother disappears, takes Marco in for good. They move in with Paul, and the three become a family of outsiders. But in the late ’70s when homophobia is overt and institutionalized, the authorities would rather see a special-needs child in an institution than a loving home run by a gay couple.

Rudy and Paul face an uphill legal battle to keep Marco, and the movie keeps us guessing whether they will prevail or not. Writer-director Fine sets up a seemingly insurmountable set of obstacles, and almost everywhere Paul and Rudy turn, they face a cold, unfeeling bureaucrat. At times the film plays with our expectations about how legal dramas work; when the couple hires a flamboyant, crusading African-American attorney (Don Franklin), we think this is the moment when the tables will finally turn in their favor.

But “Any Day Now” isn’t that simple, or that immune to how a legal system that has prejudice embedded into itself operates. The film features deeply felt, lived-in performances from all three of its leads. This is really Cumming’s showcase, as he has to reveal several layers to Rudy — the tough-talking Queens cynic inside the drag queen, the caring maternal figure inside the cynic. It’s an extroverted performance — Cumming even sings several songs in the film, such as the one referred to i the title song.

And it matches up well with Dillahunt’s introverted performance. Dillahunt usually plays either goofballs (“Raising Hope”) or villains (you knew there was trouble coming the moment he showed up in “Looper”), and he’s very effective playing a closeted gay man who, if he can’t secure justice and equality for himself, went into the law to try and quietly secure it for others.

But the film’s secret weapon may be Leyva, an actor who does have Down syndrome, and plays Marco with authenticity and dignity. “Any Day Now” is an ode to human kindness, as well as an exasperated cry against a system seemingly designed to discourage such compassion.

Oscar-nominated shorts kick off next round of Sundance Screening Room

It’s been a long wait, since early October if I recall correctly. The Sundance Cinemas Screening Room schedule, featuring independent, foreign and documentary films showing exempt from the usual amenities fees, has been on a long hiatus to make room for all the big fall and holiday releases.

But it’s back.

The first round of Screening Room films kicks off next Friday, Feb. 8 with screenings of all 15 Oscar-nominated short films. You’ll be able to see the five shorts nominated for live-action in one screening, and the five nominated for Best Animated Short at another, all that week. Plus, just for the weekend of Feb. 8, audiences can see all five films nominated for Best Documentary Short.

After that, we can look forward to new films from Werner Herzog and Abbas Kiarostami, a new documentary on hunger from the producers of “Food Inc,” and Charlie Sheen’s unlikely cinematic comeback. Here’s how the rest of the upcoming Screening Room calendar shakes out, which will bring us up to early April:

The Other Son” (Feb. 15) — Two boys discover they were switched at birth. The kicker? One is Israeli, the other Palestinian in this French drama.

A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III” (Feb. 22) — The Charlie Sheen National Rehabilitation Project continues in this film from Wes Anderson colleague Roman Coppola, starring Sheen as a graphic designer in crisis alongside Wes faves Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman.

A Place at the Table” (March 1) — A documentary from the producers of “Food, Inc.” about the hunger crisis that lets millions of Americans go underfed, and offers specific solutions to the problem.

Happy People: A Year in the Taiga” (March 8) — The latest documentary from Werner Herzog looks at a small band of indigenous people living in Siberia whose lives haven’t changed in the last century, and, as the title suggests, are just fine with that.

Barbara” (March 15) — An East German doctor hoping to flee the country in the 1980s is banished to a small rural hospital in this acclaimed drama.

Any Day Now” (March 22) — A gay couple (Alan Cumming and Garret Dillahunt) fight the legal system to keep custody of a mentally-challenged teenager who they have taken in off the streets.

Like Someone in Love‘ (March 29) — The latest film from master Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami (“Certified Copy”) looks at the relationship between an old man and a young woman in Japan.