1. “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.
2. “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.
3. “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.