Finals are about to start. Reading week will bring hundreds of pages of essays to write. Stress levels will somehow rise even higher than they already are. But when you need a break from studying for that organic chemistry exam or writing that paper on hegemonic masculinities, Netflix is there for you. Here’s Cadenza’s guide to the best movies to stream on their site.
I’m always impressed by an actor’s ability to play against type. An actor usually typecast as the hero portraying the villain. The suave romantic cast as a serial killer. Tom Cruise in “Tropic Thunder.” Jim Carrey in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” But the most interesting against-type scenario is a typically bad actor actually acting well (think Nicolas Cage in “Moonstruck”). Kristen Stewart accomplishes this feat in “Adventureland,” a comedy that follows the lives of several lackadaisical carnival workers over the course of one ’80s summer, starring as Em, Jesse Eisenberg’s love interest. Because make no mistake, Kristen Stewart is a bad actress. I’ve heard it suggested that she’s merely a victim in the crime that is “Twilight,” but a quick look at her other attempts at acting pretty much invalidates that claim. At the age of 11 she fouled up with the already-mediocre “Panic Room.” Her attempts at courageous monologue in the new Snow White movie were cringe-worthy. But when Stewart and Eisenberg share a kiss as the Velvet Underground plays sweetly in the background…mmmm, I’m in love with a girl. Speaking of which, “Adventureland” has a fantastic soundtrack; the movie’s main theme is composed by indie legends Yo La Tengo. –Paul Marsh
Stop being studious and acting like a good person for a little and indulge your darker side in the witty (and maybe romantic) comedy of “Cruel Intentions.” Without giving away too much, “Cruel Intentions” follows the wealthy, teenage pair of Kathryn (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Sebastian (Ryan Phillippe), stepsiblings with a little more sexual tension than is normal. Kathryn and Sebastian make a bet over whether he can seduce Annette (Reese Witherspoon), a virgin. If Kathryn wins, she gets Sebastian’s roadster, but if he wins, he gets Kathryn. The movie features all of the classic makings of a teenage cult film: gossip, sex, drugs, alcohol and even deflowering a virgin. So for an hour and a half of dark, sexual humor, treat yourself to “Cruel Intentions.” It’s worth watching. –Caroline Gutbezahl
After “Being John Malkovich” (also on Netflix, by the way), “Adaptation,” “Eternal Sunshine,” and “Synecdoche, New York,” hailing Charlie Kaufman as the best screenwriter in modern cinema is kind of like claiming “Calvin and Hobbes” is the best comic strip of all time: it’s an opinion so undisputed that it’s almost fact. Kate Winslet, Jim Carrey (in probably the acting performance of his life) and director Michel Gondry transform Kaufman’s psychologically trippy screenplay into one of the weirdest, funniest, most beautiful films of the 2000s (and maybe my favorite movie ever). Winslet and Carrey portray Joel and Clementine, a couple so pissed off with each other that each decides to literally forget about their relationship with the help of a memory erasure clinic. As the couple revisits their memories as they’re beating deleted, they realize that some things are better left remembered. “Sunshine” pulls off the nearly impossible task of being simultaneously enjoyable, adorable and cerebral. This is one of those rare movies that I can never get tired of watching, partly because I see the movie from a different angle every time I watch it (the ending shot, in particular). If Joel and Clementine’s final shared, fleeting memory doesn’t tug at your heartstrings…get a soul. –Paul Marsh
Art, heist and documentary lovers rejoice! “Exit Through the Gift Shop” is a perfect combination of all three. A French shopkeeper, Thierry Guetta, leads viewers on a thrilling journey in search of the famous, or infamous, street artist, Banksy. Banksy then turns the tables on the shopkeeper to make his own movie. Banksy’s real identity remains unknown, even throughout the movie, but you can feel free to waste copious amounts of study-time pondering who he might be. The visual aspects of the film are stunning, especially Banksy’s art. If you’ve never heard of him, this movie is especially crucial to watch—it’s instant cultural capital. Once you go Banksy, you never go back. You’ll never look at street art the same way. And maybe you’ll start graffiti-ing. Student Life takes no responsibility for such career decisions. –Jamie Gottlieb
Throw away your holiday-discussion-topic worries with the 1967 classic comedy/drama hit, “The Graduate.” Your knowledge of this film is sure to be a hit at any family table, and as a bonus it’s actually a great film. Dustin Hoffman stars as a handsome university graduate, Benjamin Braddock, stricken with the post-college blues. He finds respite in his seductive neighbor, Mrs. Robinson (Anne Barcroft), who gives him a special graduation present. But what’s a boy to do when he finds himself in a love-triangle with a woman and her daughter, Elaine (Katharine Ross)? If things get really desperate at your neighborhood potluck, you can always show off your knowledge of Simon and Garfunkel, the duo that graces the soundtrack that will be stuck in your head for eons. In a good way. Just don’t watch this movie in the library. The suggestive cougar-youngin’ relations featured in the film might earn you too many weird looks. Unless of course, you can pretend that it’s “for your sexuality studies class,” just like those people who were “reading ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ because it was an assignment.” Sure you were. –Jamie Gottlieb
If you’re tired of romantic films but still want hope for your love life this holiday season, get yourself to Netflix right away and watch the 1971 film “Harold and Maude.” Harold (Bud Cort) is a teenage boy with a quirky fascination with death. He meets Maude (Ruth Gordon), an elderly woman, and falls deeply in love, despite his mother’s (Vivian Pickles) best efforts to plan out his life for him. They form a morbid bond based on attending others’ funerals and holding hippie/rag-tag sing-alongs in her home. Rihanna’s song, “We Found Love” is basically based on this movie. Harold and Maude find love in a hopeless place, and it’s beautiful in the weirdest way possible. Maude’s fashion choices will make you feel infinitely better about the bootleg study get-ups you’ve been wearing for the past few days. So take a couple of hours and fall in love. With a little boy and an adorable old woman. –Jamie Gottlieb
If I were to guess, I’d say you probably don’t like Adam Sandler; neither do I. And that’s OK because “Punch-Drunk Love” isn’t an Adam Sandler movie. Sure, technically he plays the lead role, but his trademark lazy, juvenile humor is nowhere to be found. No, this film belongs to Paul Thomas Anderson, the finest filmmaker of our generation. After two sweeping, Altman-esque ensemble pieces (“Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia”), Anderson decided to pare back and turn his attention to something else entirely: romance. Except for Anderson, producing a cheap “Casablanca” knockoff wasn’t part of the plan. In fact, “Punch-Drunk Love” doesn’t feature much romance at all, at least in a conventional sense. Rather, we’re given Barry Egan, an emotionally stunted creep who collects pudding, verbally assaults the owner of a phone-sex line (with good reason) and threatens to kill his sister. Did I mention he’s prone to outbursts of uncontrollable anger? “Punch-Drunk Love” subverts the conventions of the romance genre to delightfully disturbing effect and is unlike any other film you’ll see. For those who have been dragged to one too many Nicholas Sparks adaptations, this one’s for you. –Mark Matousek