Instant Gratification: “Bill Cunningham New York” and four other good movies to watch on Netflix right now

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Just last Friday, a friend of mine was bemoaning over coffee how hard it was to find good movies on Netflix Instant. Especially when you let your kids use your account, and it screws up the algorithm so that all the films in your “Recommended” queue are movies about teen mermaids.

So, every Tuesday, Instant Gratification brings you five good movies that are streaming on Netflix right now. The pickings were a little slim this week, because Netflix is preparing a major purge of titles on Wednesday, May 1, including a lot of MGM titles (such as all the James Bond movies). I didn’t want to include any of those on this list because of their short shelf life, but you might want to go on an eleventh-hour binge tonight on those.

Top pick of the week: “Bill Cunningham New York“: Here’s my full review. This delightful documentary follows the New York Times’  longtime fashion photographer, as he toodles around New York on his bicycle, looking for chic regular people to photograph for the Sunday Styles section. As much as it’s a movie about style, it’s a movie about finding your passion in life and devoting everything to it.

Foreign film of the week: “In Another Country“:  Here’s my full review. Isabelle Huppert stars in master South Korean director Hong Sang-soo’s playful film, which scrambles the same characters and situations into three different vignettes about a Frenchwoman on vacation.

Thriller of the week: “The Good Thief“:  Nick Nolte gives a terrific performance in director Neil Jordan’s 2003 update of the Jean-Pierre Melville classic “Bob Le Flambeur,” playing a gambler and drug addict on the French Riviera who has to pull himself together to mastermind a casino heist.

Comedy of the week: “Manhattan“: Seeing this on the big screen at the Wisconsin Film Festival (here’s my report) was a wonderful reminder of just how good Woody Allen’s 1979 comedy was — as actor Michael Murphy said at the screening, it may be the closest we ever get to seeing the real Woody on screen.

Bad movie of the week: “The Paperboy“: Here’s my full review. For connoisseurs of bad movies, Lee Daniels’ overheated 2012 noir is a buffet of bad acting, bizarre directing choices, and just plain scuzziness. I think it was the worst movie of 2012, and yet it is so pure in its awfulness that I can’t help but half-recommend it, just for the spectacle of it all.

 

Wisconsin Film Festival: Michael Murphy takes “Manhattan”

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I had not planned on going to all three of Michael Murphy’s events at the Wisconsin Film Festival. I thought I would hit “Phase IV” for sure, and then maybe “Brewster McCloud” just to hear the actor tell Robert Altman stories. But that was it. Certainly not Woody Allen’s “Manhattan,” which I love but have seen plenty of times in my life.

And there I was, watching “Manhattan” at the Union South Marquee Theater. And loving it. Because it’s “Manhattan.” And it’s Michael Murphy.

Murphy is just such a great storyteller and such a gregarious guy (and, let’s face it, “Manhattan” is such a wonderful film) that I couldn’t pass up the chance. Festival director of programming Jim Healy said it was a new print of “Manhattan,” and the black-and-white shots of ’70s New York looked awesome on the big screen. I got chills during that final “Rhapsody in Blue” overture. And, after Allen’s spotty later years, it’s just such a pleasure to return to the sharp writing (with UW-Madison graduate Marshall Brickman) of his peak years.

So, of course, Murphy talked during the Q&A about how much Allen never liked “Manhattan,” so much that he wanted to take the print back from the studio and make them another film for free. Murphy said he agreed with actor Pat Healy, who was at the screening, that Allen might have been so uncomfortable with the film because it hit so close to home.

“This is as close to Woody as you’ll ever see,” Murphy said.

Murphy and Allen became friends while acting together on 1976’s “The Front,” and Murphy said what you see in “Manhattan” is pretty much their lives together (minus the adultery,etc.) “We had a million meals at that table in Elaine’s, some unbelievable conversations,” he said. “It was just like going out and having dinner with your friends.”

Murphy also told some funny stories about Allen’s notorious hypochondria, such as convincing himself that he had a brain tumor after listening to a lot of George Gershwin, who died of a brain tumor. Another time, Murphy remembered trying to convince Allen that he wouldn’t die young, noting that both his parents lived to be well into their 90s.

“Genetics will only get you so far, Murphy,” Allen reportedly responded.