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4 Essential Films to Watch From Netflix's New 'Auteur' Section

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Netflix has never been a great place for watching classic films.

It’s a great website and some of its original series’ are of a very high quality. Yet if you are looking for more than ‘Netflix and chill’ from your movies then you usually have to trawl through quite a bit of sludge in order to get to the really good films.

Film-lovers have usually been better off going on sites such as MUBI and BFI for truly great classic films.

Thankfully Netflix seems to be doing something about this. It has just put an ‘Auteur Cinema’ section on its website, and the films in it are a cut above the rest.

Here are four essential films you should watch from this section. 

It Happened One Night (1934)

Some films exude a magic that is as unexplainable as it was unexpected. Casablanca is the archetypal example. It Happened One Night is another.

Neither Clarke Gable nor Claudette Colbert were particularly enthused the project. Both resented being loaned out to Columbia by their studios to play the leading roles: Columbia was one of the the minor studios in the 1930s, Gable didn't like the script, and Colbert didn't like the director, Frank Capra. Yet this was 1934, the height of the studio system, and the actors had to do more or less what the studio heads told them to do.

Which is just as well. The result was a film of irresistible wit, charm and warmth that has been cherished by movie-lovers for generations. When spoilt heiress Ellen Andrews (Claudette Colbert) runs away from her father to elope with a play-boy aviator, she meets Peter Warren (Clarke Gable), a cynical out-of-work reporter who is willing to help Ellen reach her prospective husband so that he can get the inside scope on the story.

As they travel across America, Gable and Colbert engage in the kind of verbal jousting between the sexes that would become the trademark of ‘screwball’ comedies of the decade. The zip and crackle of the dialogue, the coiled sexual tension bubbling just below the surface, the seemingly magnetic force drawing Gable and Colbert together, all serve to ensure that this swift-footed film was one of the most memorable of the decade.

What separates this film from other screwball comedies of the period is Frank Capra’s direction. The Capra touch ensured that the films cynical, sardonic tone is infused with the warmth and humanity that would become his trademark.

12 Angry Men (1957)

It’s the hottest day of the year, 1957 and the Cold War is still cold. 12 ordinary men are placed in a small, stuffy jury room in downtown New York, the life of an 18-year-old Hispanic boy is in their hands. 11 of the jury have little qualms about sending him to the chair, because they think it is self-evident that he has murdered his father.

"I just wanna talk", Henry Fonda’s character says, the only juryman who isn't quite convinced the boy is guilty. "It's not easy to raise my hand and send a boy to die without talking about it first." Fonda thus removes the first thread in the case against the boy, something which leads inexorably to its breathless unravelling.

The pace and sheer magnetism of this film is all the more remarkable given that nearly all of the action takes place in a single room. This would be a hinderance if the script were not so well written, or the characters not so exceptionally interesting.

The power of this film comes not from the individual characters themselves, but the way they interact. The ice-cold logic of a stockbroker, the repressed emotional rage of a bereft father, the ugly prejudice of a racist, and the lofty idealism of Henry Fonda, all fight it out in the heat of a New York summer.

Again, what set’s this film apart is its direction. Sidney Lumet’s sublime camera work is remarkable. Beginning the film by shooting from above the characters heads and using a wide-angle lens, Lumet gradually lowers the camera position and shortens the depth of field. This has an immensely claustrophobic effect on the viewer, who finds themself sucked compulsively into that sweaty New York jury room without even realising it.

Dazed and Confused (1993)

"Alright, alright, alright."

Can anyone read those words anymore without instantly picturing Matthew McConaughey pulling up in his turbo-jet Chevy? If you can then you should head straight over to Netflix and watch Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused right now.

What is so remarkable about Linklater is his ability to make films whose quality lies beyond fast-paced plot lines. This is why it is sometimes difficult to persuade people to watch his films. What is Dazed and Confused actually about? Well, its the last day of school and this kids party that everyone was going to go to gets shut down, so instead they drive around and drink beer and smoke weed. And er… that’s it.

But the brilliance of this film lies not in its plot-line but in its documentation of the rhythms of teenage life. There is a kind of effortless meandering to the film; Linklater, like his laid-back teenage characters, is in no rush. In a similar way to the road movies of the late 60s, films like Easy Rider and Five Easy Pieces, the film prioritises experience over a coherent narrative.

Through various snapshots of teenage life - two guys trying to make a bong in tech class, a degrading initiation for high-school freshermen, a fight at a party, a young teenager boldly buying beer from a corner shop and getting drunk for the very first time - through these wonderfully identifiable moments, Linklater memorably evokes what it is to be young and growing up.

Dr Strangelove, Or How Learnt To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb (1964)

Stanley Kubrick’s classic 1964 film is a comedy about a nuclear holocaust. If that sounds bizarre that's because it is. Kubrick’s nightmarish black comedy is so deliciously funny that one often forgets that underlying the humour is the threat of atomic annihilation.

Kubrick had first intended to make a serious film about the subject in order to alert people to the dangers of accidental nuclear war. Yet as he set out to work on the script he encountered some problems with this approach. As Kubrick himself put it in a rare interview, "Ideas kept coming to me which I would discard because they were so ludicrous I kept saying to myself: “I can’t do this. People will laugh.”

The project thus morphed fairly rapidly into a black comedy. Briefly, the film is depicts a paranoid, vehemently anti-communist US general who orders a fleet of B-52s to bomb Russian targets, apparently unaware that the Russians have developed a new Doomsday device which will automatically detonate if any nuclear weapons are dropped on the USSR. The President, upon hearing about the belligerent actions of his rogue suborindate, finds that he cannot recall the planes because only the general knows the codes.

The result is a film which forms a devastating critique on the nuclear build-up and strategy of the Cold War. Kubrick playful equates military aggression with sexual desire; the hawks in the US cabinet are called Buck Turgidson and Jack D. Ripper, while the president himself, a dove, is appropriately named Melvin Muffley. He lampoons the anti-communist paranoia of the hard right through the character of Jack D. Ripper who will only drink ‘distilled water or rain water’ for fear of Communist contamination.

Perhaps most subtly is Kubrick’s allusions to how the American generals do not understand how the possession of nuclear weapons has fundamentally changed the nature of war. On board the B-52s, planes which are about to drop nuclear weapons over Russia, Kubrick shows us the survival kit of the pilot of the plane, Mayor King Kong. Packed full of chewing gum, stockings and condoms, Kong appears oblivious to the fact that if the plane does go down after dropping the nuclear weapons then the crew won’t have to worry about survival.

One of the funniest political satires ever made, this film is a must watch.

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