Ah, spring! Not exactly the most fertile time for fresh movies, but after a relatively low-key March lineup, streaming giant Netflix now sees fit to offer its loyal subscribers a much more thrilling assortment of choices for April viewing pleasure. Among them: a pair of Netflix-branded originals that seem, at least on their face, very different, though both offer family-centric entertainment with some always-necessary lessons about the power of bonding together in the face of adversity (in “The Mitchells vs. The Machines,” it’s technology; in “Concrete Cowboy,” it’s the insidious power of a city not valuing its citizens; we promise they will actually make a solid double feature).
Elsewhere, the streamer is giving two festival hits an online home, from the eye-popping education at the heart of “Coded Bias” to the body-thumping joy of “Dark City Beneath the Beat.” End your month of movie-watching with some meat and potatoes Ron Howard action (“Rush”), top it off with the confectionary insanity of Guillermo del Toro’s “Crimson Peak,” and save the best for last: Paul Thomas Anderson’s chilly masterpiece “The Master.”
All told, April isn’t looking too shabby in streaming land, and the phrase “something for everyone” certainly seems apt. Here are the seven best movies coming to Netflix this April.
7. “Concrete Cowboy”
Rumors have abounded for years that Idris Elba is next in line to play James Bond, and while that remains to be seen, at least films like Ricky Staub’s fact-based drama “Concrete Cowboy” continue to make it clear that the actor has star power to spare, no matter the genre.
Chronicling the fraught father-son relationship between Elba’s Harp and Caleb McLaughlin’s Cole (with the “Stranger Things” actor handily proving he has the chops to go beyond the confines of Netflix’s ensemble sci-fi series), “Concrete Cowboy” also digs into the fascinating real-life culture of Philadelphia-area cowboys. You read that right, as Staub drew inspiration for his feature debut from the world of urban horseback riding that has long existed in North Philadelphia (and, as the film tells us, in other cities around the country, from Houston to Compton).
Alongside Elba and McLaughlin, a cadre of real-life riders also appear as loose versions of themselves, and the result is an insightful blend of fact and fiction, both of which deserve to be experienced by a wider audience.
Available to stream April 4.
6. “The Mitchells vs. The Machines”
Originally titled “Connected” and set up as a Sony release, Michael Rianda and Jeff Rowe’s animated romp now has a brand-new home at Netflix, which will offer up the Phil Lord- and Chris Miller-produced family comedy to (we’re guessing) some very happy subscribers, eager for new, original animated content for their housebound little ones.
But, again, it’s a Lord and Miller joint, so we’re also expecting massive appeal for everyone (read: jokes, good ones, too!). Billed as a star-studded comedy, the film follows the Mitchell clan of the title as they struggle to relate while technology rises up around the world.
When Katie Mitchell (Abbi Jacobson), a creative outsider, is accepted into the film school of her dreams, her plans to meet “her people” at college are upended when her nature-loving dad Rick (Danny McBride) determines the whole family should drive Katie to school together and bond as a family one last time. On the drive to campus they come across a tech uprising, leaving them to figure out how to save the world from a technological singularity.
In addition to Jacobson and McBride, the jam-packed voice cast includes Maya Rudolph, Eric André, Olivia Colman, Fred Armisen, Beck Bennett, Chrissy Teigen, John Legend, Charlyne Yi, Conan O’Brien, Sasheer Zamata, and Jay Pharaoh. Frequent Lord and Miller collaborator Mark Mothersbaugh composed music for the film. The soundtrack includes tracks from various artists, including Los Campesinos!, Sigur Rós, Talking Heads, Grimes, and Le Tigre.
Available to stream April 30.
5. “Coded Bias”
Shalini Kantayya’s fascinating documentary cut quite a path over the 2020 festival circuit, notching a Sundance premiere, followed by (mostly virtual) screenings everywhere from BlackStar to Melbourne, Warsaw to the Hamptons. Fresh off a virtual cinema run, it’s hitting Netflix, where its insightful investigation of the limitations of A.I. made by humans should enthrall a whole new set of viewers.
The documentary follows M.I.T. Media Lab computer scientist Joy Buolamwini, who discovered that many algorithms could not detect dark-skinned faces or classify women with accuracy. Her work inspired both an eye-opening academic paper and a shocking TED Talk, which is how Kantayya first came across Buolamwini and her work.
The computer scientist and “poet of code” is an incredibly engaging subject, and alongside Kantayya, the pair break down this strange, terrible issue that has plenty of real-world effects. Both compelling and downright scary, “Coded Bias” makes the case that these A.I. issues have impacts that go far beyond their everyday applications.
Available to stream April 5.
Ron Howard’s sturdy “Rush” follows the infamous rivalry between Formula One drivers James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) during the 1976 Formula 1 motor-racing season and is a deft blend of racing action and deeper exploration of the psyche of two fascinating men.
Double feature this bad boy with James Mangold’s “Ford v Ferrari” for a high-octane viewing experience to tide you over before summer blockbuster season comes speeding into view.
Available to stream April 16.
3. “Dark City Beneath the Beat”
A 2020 SXSW premiere finally making its way to the masses, this TT The Artist-directed musical documentary has been compared to the charms of “Girl Walk//All Day” by preeminent “Girl Walk//All Day” fan, IndieWire’s own David Ehrlich, who deemed the film “an ecstatically hopeful love letter to Bmore.”
In his review of the film, Ehrlich made the case for “Dark City” to power plenty of dim times, writing last year:
“Taking a DJ-inspired approach to documentary cinema that finds TT seamlessly looping archival footage and original dance sequences into a kind of hyper-expressive cinematic flashmob, ‘Dark City’ explodes onto the streets of Baltimore in a burst of fire. Man-on-the-street interviews with local icons like producer Mighty Mark (who contributed to TT’s killer score for the film) blur into expressively choreographed dance sequences on the strength of a thick beat that allows the whole town to feel like it’s moving in place.”
Who doesn’t need an at-home dance party these days?
Available to stream April 15.
2. “Crimson Peak”
How early is too early for a critical reappraisal? When Guillermo del Toro’s sumptous Gothic horror romance “Crimson Peak” landed in theaters in October 2015, reviews were unkind enough to spawn whole articles unpacking their complaints, but even those damning words were suffused with a kind of awe for a mostly hard to describe confection.
Eye-popping production design, costumes so rich you want to sink your teeth into them, and the sense that every single performer in the film approached it with an entirely different sense of what it was about add up to a throwback chiller that’s, if nothing else, exceedingly watchable. Come for whatever the hell is going on between siblings Thomas (Tom Hiddleston) and Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain), stay for Mia Wasikowska’s wonderfully old-fashioned performance as the innocent who comes between them.
Available to stream April 16.
1. “The Master”
We’ll let filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson try to sell you on this one, his self-professed favorite film he’s made yet. In February 2018, Anderson told the Los Angeles Times why the 2012 drama has a special place in his heart.
“The amount of emotion I put into it and they put into it — they being Phil [Seymour Hoffman], Joaquin [Phoenix] and Amy [Adams]. I’m not sure it’s entirely successful. But that’s fine with me. It feels right. It feels unique to me,” he said. “I really hope it will be something people can revisit and enjoy in a way that equals my pride in it. And pride can be a dangerous thing, and I’m not being very quiet about my pride in saying all this. But I just feel really proud of it.”
“The Master” premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2012 and became an instant favorite with critics, winning the FIPRESCI Award, the Silver Lion for Best Director, and the Volpi Cup for Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix’s performances. The movie wasn’t successful at the box office but gained a cult following of sorts among Anderson fans. The performances by Hoffman, Phoenix, and Adams all received Oscar nominations.
Available to stream April 15.
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