Netflix is adding a diverse array of new titles to its streaming library this April, from certified American classics like “Deliverance” to more recent cult favorites like “The Fifth Element.” But the most exciting thing about the platform’s latest crop of movies is how they point towards Netflix as a repository for essential foreign cinema that wouldn’t otherwise have been available to such a wide audience of American viewers. From a much-hyped masterpiece like Lee Chang-dong’s “Burning,” which received a long but limited theatrical run, to the Locarno-winning “A Land Imagined,” which is going straight from the festival circuit to the streaming world, Netflix is becoming an invaluable safety net for new international fare. It’s no substitute for seeing these movies on the big screen, but perhaps their availability will stoke a renewed interest in subtitled film, and inspire people to take a chance on the next Cannes sensation that comes into town.
Below are the seven best movies that are new to Netflix in April 2019. Click here for a complete list of all the films that are being added to the service this month.
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7. “I Am Legend” (2007)
Is this post-apocalyptic zombie epic about Will Smith falling in love with a mannequin in lower Manhattan’s now-defunct Tower Records a better film than “Bonnie and Clyde,” which is also coming to Netflix this month? Probably not. Even Ben Lyons, who famously called it “one of the greatest movies ever made” on the television show he inherited from Roger Ebert, might agree that this massive Richard Matheson adaptation hasn’t aged into a landmark American classic. And yet, “I am Legend” is squeaking onto this month’s list for two reasons: One is that Netflix’s rare and erratic pushes into pre-’80s films are neither representative of their brand, nor reliable as a viewing experience (there doesn’t seem to be much of a vetting process when it comes to picture quality). The other is that “I Am Legend” is a fascinating time capsule for how it represents both the best and worst of contemporary blockbuster cinema.
The film’s brilliant first half, in which Smith forages through an abandoned New York City as the last man alive, is a testament to star power and the magic of a deep-pocketed production (it’s still mind-boggling that Warner Bros. was able to clear out one of the most populated and least patient metropolitan areas on Earth). The film’s second half, in which legions of costumed extras were replaced by wildly unbelievable flesh-hungry CGI “Darkseekers” at the last minute, highlights a Hollywood that was (and continues to be) losing its way. As a popcorn movie par excellence, “I Am Legend” is cut off at the knees. As a literal illustration of how the over-reliance on new technologies might snuff out any traces of humanity, this chintzy spectacle has proven to be prophetic.
Available to stream April 1.
6. “A Land Imagined” (2018)
Singapore is 22% larger than it was in 1965, and home to twice as many people. That sort of thing doesn’t happen naturally — but, thanks to the industrial sorcery of land reclamation (a process that involves importing rock and sand from other places and using them to build out the seas), there’s almost no limit to the boundaries of urban development. Essentially doing for sand what “Chinatown” did for water, Yeo Siew Hua’s Locarno-winning “A Land Imagined” processes the country’s growth through the framework of an elusive and hypnotic dream noir.
Layered beneath humid synths and baked under sumptuous wide shots of the machinery twinkling along the island’s terraformed shores, the film stars Peter Yu as a detective tasked with investigating the disappearance of a Chinese migrant worker. That premise, of course, is little more than a push down the rabbit hole, as the search for the missing laborer soon melts into something considerably more abstract. How much Earth can Singapore import before it becomes another place entirely? Hua’s beguiling film addresses that question as best it can, blossoming into a clever analogue for the soul of a country in transition.
Available to stream April 12.
5. “The Hateful Eight: Extended Edition” (2015)
At the risk of dumping on a film that failed to get its due, not even the biggest champions of Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight” were clamoring for any kind of extended edition. The snowbound Western, which is largely confined to a single location, is like the Tarantino equivalent of a treadmill: It runs for more than three hours without ever really going anywhere. But there’s no need to worry — Tarantino didn’t go back into the editing room and make his longest film even longer. The “Extended Edition” is simply the roadshow cut of the movie that screened on 70mm in theaters across the country; the only difference between this and the standard cut is the inclusion of an overture and a brief intermission (and who knows, Netflix might give viewers the option to skip over both).
But if this tricky branding encourages people to check out or revisit Tarantino’s epic bottle episode of a movie, then maybe it’s all for the best. “The Hateful Eight” may be the most stage-like of the auteur’s features, but it’s also the purest and most rewarding expression of the powder-keg suspense that he’d been using film grammar to perfect since the “check out the big brains on Brad!” scene from “Pulp Fiction.” Taking the heart-in-your-throat feeling that defines the prologue of “Inglorious Basterds” and stretching it across roughly 200 pages of poisonous dialogue, Tarantino creates a vision of internecine American violence that’s as tense and bloody as the country that stretches beyond the film’s dark cabin walls. As a bonus — or a consolation for those who grow impatient with it — “The Hateful Eight” also features the most Samuel L. Jackson performance of all time.
Available to stream April 25.
4. “The Fifth Element” (1997)
Perhaps the fact that Luc Besson has been deservedly cancelled — and his EuropaCorp studio cut off at the knees — can serve as sufficient permission to indulge in one of the best movies he ever made, a late-’90s spectacle that deserves to outlive the man who made it. Besson’s delirious and imaginative space opera, in which a Jean-Paul Gautier model is grown in a futuristic petri dish and forced to become the ass-kicking savior of all humanity, is the blazing supernova at the tail end of the director’s greatest hot streak. It’s also the flamboyant, nerd-ass kind of spectacle that could only be imagined by a teenage kid, or an adult who never grew up.
Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis) is looking for the perfect woman — he finds her, and how. It turns out she’s a stark naked Milla Jovovich. And from the moment she swan dives into the back seat of Korben’s flying cab, “The Fifth Element” is almost as perfect as she is. Throwing us into an astonishingly well-realized sci-fi world that’s populated with great heroes, even better villains (Zorg! Those humanoid space dog things!), and an endless array of great characters who fall somewhere in between (every supporting role is ingeniously cast, from Chris Tucker as Ruby Rhod to Tiny Lister as the galactic President), Besson forges a modern classic that makes old ideas feel new again.
Available to stream on April 1.
3. “American Honey” (2016)
Andrea Arnold’s “American Honey” never hit quite as hard as it should have. The sprawling, feral, boho-Instagram vision of lost youth was centered around Sasha Lane’s astonishing lead performance, and pumped with the lifeblood of a generational icon. But the story of a teen runaway who joins a group of hedonistic young magazine sellers didn’t quite align with anyone’s experience — there was something decidedly alien about Arnold’s portrait of the untamed American spirit — and “American Honey” slipped through the cracks. But now, with Arnold about to unleash the second season of “Big Little Lies,” Shia LaBeouf fresh off his critically acclaimed Sundance biopic “Honey Boy,” and Lane about to leap to the big time with her role in this month’s “Hellboy” reboot, there’s never been a better time for a second taste of this singular experience.
Available to stream April 27.
2. “All the President’s Men” (1976)
The rare sequel that’s better than the original, Alan J. Pakula’s follow-up to “The Post” (somehow made 42 years before Spielberg’s film) plunges into the Watergate scandal with the hard-nosed determination of a dog trying to dig a bone out of hard cement. There’s little that’s left to be said about this landmark journalistic thriller — which is now being rebooted before our eyes on a daily basis — but each new viewing brings a change of perspective depending on what’s happening in the news. If “All the President’s Men” had popped up on Netflix in the spring of 2018, it might have appealed to streaming viewers as a tribute to the beleaguered members of the media. Watching it now, in the wake of the summary of the Mueller Report (and the pundit class’ widespread tendency to treat it like a pure moral victory for Trump), this breathlessly involving bit of American history feels like a condemnation of the weak-kneed journalism that is allowing power to trample all over truth. Either way, Pakula’s masterpiece holds up as an essential movie and then some.
Available to stream on April 1.
1. “Burning” (2018)
There are two kinds of cinephiles: Those who’ve seen “Burning,” and those who didn’t have access to its theatrical run last fall, and are probably sick of hearing about its stone-cold brilliance. Lee Chang-dong’s masterpiece — which topped IndieWire’s critics poll as the best film of 2018 Cannes Film Festival, landed the highest score in the long history of Screen Daily’s annual critics grid, and then proved to be way too good for an Oscar nomination — was an elusive thing in this modern world of streaming content and short theatrical windows. But now, in the immortal words of Sam Rosen, the waiting is over: One of the best films of this waning decade is coming to Netflix.
Adapted from a Haruki Murakami story called “Barn Burning,” which was first published in The New Yorker in 1992 (and can be read in its entirety here), “Burning” is sparked by a seemingly innocent encounter between two born-again strangers. Lee Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in) is an aimless young writer whose rootless existence is turned upside down after he bumps into former classmate Shin Hae-mi (newcomer Jeon Jong-seo), a beautiful woman who’s been rendered unrecognizable by time, experience, and some top-notch plastic surgery. The two quickly rekindle their old friendship — and light the tinder of a new romance — before Hae-mi asks Jong-su to feed her cat while she takes off on a spirit quest to North Africa.
That’s when things start to get strange. For starters, Jong-su can’t seem to find any evidence of a cat living in Hae-mi’s cramped Seoul apartment. And then… there’s Ben. Hae-mi may have gone on that trip to find herself, but she returns with a man in tow. And not just any man, but “The Walking Dead” star Steven Yeun, playing a slick, rich, and mysterious hunk who claims to have never cried, and confesses to a lifelong addiction to arson. The hidden darkness only makes his Gatsby vibe sexier; Jong-su never has a chance. But when Hae-mi suddenly disappears, our slack-jawed hero begins to suspect that Ben’s secrets might be more sinister than he first assumed.
While the film uses Murakami’s source material as more of a starting point than a reference, the writer’s fans know better than to expect a conventional thriller. Lee — delivering his first movie since “Poetry” came out eight years earlier — makes good on that assumption and then some, the director unpacking a simple premise into a brilliant and beguiling portrait of working-class frustrations, and resolving it into as essential a film as anything you’ll find on Netflix.
Available to stream April 29.