Netflix Gems: The Best Films You Didn’t Hear About

"Nightcrawler", "Beyond the Lights" and "White God" are among the better films to grace Netflix in the past year.

Eric Anderson, Staff Writer

With the end of Oscar season this past weekend, it seems an appropriate time to spotlight some films with a little less prestige yet more potency and timeliness than many of this year’s nominees. These are three films currently available to stream on Netflix, released in the past two years: “Nightcrawler,” “Beyond the Lights” and “White God.”
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal in the lead role, “Nightcrawler” is the tale of an enterprising young man who discovers his own American Dream. As it turns out, though, that man happens to be a psychopath whose business is the unauthorized filming of horrific accidents and crimes for local news outlets. The film was originally released in November 2014, but was overshadowed by the generic teen horror film “Ouija” and fell under the radar of most moviegoers.
Simply put, Gyllenhaal perfectly portrays the role of a man who is wholly lacking in empathy and morals. His character is also notable for not being the typical Hollywood psychopath; he is not a serial killer, nor is he exceptionally charming. In fact, he’s the kind of person who would be very off-putting to most people. But he knows how to gain leverage over others, strikingly well, and he knows how to plan. The film feels more grounded than the similarly-themed “American Psycho” but, like that film, has a biting edge and a condemnation of society’s apathy regarding the violence around them–in this case, media violence that has become so mainstream it’s featured on the 6:00 a.m. news.
It’s the success story of a ruthless man who could never have succeeded were the world not as ruthless as he is. It’s one of the best films of 2014 and comes at a high recommendation for fans of edgier fare.
“Beyond the Lights,” which was similarly overshadowed at the multiplexes by “Mockingjay: Part 1,” tells the tale of a pop star (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, redeeming herself from the disappointing “Belle”) who becomes romantically involved with the cop (Nate Parker, “Non-Stop”) assigned to her security detail, who saves her from a suicide attempt. It’s refreshing in its portrayal of a relationship that develops gradually, but, more notably, it’s a powerful work regarding the pressures of fame and the release that comes with having something real in a life defined by falsehood.
The drive for success, the suppression of self and the aggressive female sexualization that appear as staples of modern-day manufactured stardom are all put on the chopping block in this film, which condemnns the environment that has been set up for Mbatha-Raw’s character’s artificial successes. “Beyond the Lights” is not an attack on pop stars, but the toxic world which is seen as necessary for success. It makes a good companion piece for Oscar-nominated documentary “Amy,” which details the harsh repercussions of unexpected success. “Beyond the Lights,” lacking the built-in downer ending of “Amy,” is a more hopeful film, but not one to be taken lightly.
In addition to Mbatha-Raw and Parker, “Beyond the Lights” also features a strong performance from Minnie Driver as an aggressive parent who has long overstayed her welcome in her daughter’s life and striking direction from Gina Prince-Bythewood. Recommended for all drama fans.
Meanwhile, anyone upset by animal abuse will find some much-needed catharsis in “White God.” When 13-year-old Lili and her dog Hagen are sent to live with Lili’s estranged father, poor Hagen finds himself abandoned after the father refuses to pay a “mongrel” fine and leaves him out on the street. As Lili sets out to find her beloved mutt, Hagen’s situation becomes worse and worse until, with a pack of other abused dogs at his command, Hagen decides to take some revenge.
A twofold violation of W. C. Fields’ credo of “Never work with children or animals,” “White God” scores great work out of both, with highly convincing animal actors and an excellent turn by young Hungarian actress Zsófia Psotta. Fans of films featuring animals should get a kick out of this – though be warned that “White God” does feature scenes of (simulated) animal cruelty.
All of the above films are currently available to stream on Netflix and come at a high recommendation.