Netflix For Free: What To Watch At StreamFest, Film Companion
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Don’t have a Netflix subscription? Not even a friend nice enough to share her account? Here’s your chance to plunder through the Netflix catalogue — the streaming platform’s version of the big Sunday sale — on December 5 and 6, as it opens up for these 2 days for non-subscribers to watch all they want. Your time starts on Friday 12 midnight. And lest you waste time deciding what to watch, or waste time watching something you shouldn’t have watched, we’ve drawn a recommendation list for you. It has something for everyone. 

Emily in Paris 

After months of crushing anxiety and bad news, what could be better than a beautiful diversion? Emily in Paris transports you to the magical city, which here is always bathed in sunlight, the flowers are always blooming, the crepes are always delicious and there is always a dreamy French man or woman just around the corner. Karan Johar once said that even his cinematographer has to be good looking. I imagine that was true for this show also — Everyone is hot, impeccably dressed and ready for sex. Any problems that arise are solved within the 30-odd minutes of each of the 10 episodes.  And the coats are to die for. As I watched, I understood that I can see anything that has pretty people and nice shoes in it. The storytelling is so light that it makes The Devil Wears Prada look like The Godfather. But that’s exactly what you need at the end of a year like this.

Icarus

In a year that has seen the unprecedented suspension of global sports – followed by a cautious return – there’s no better reminder of how deeply the cultural fabric of a land is interwoven with the “business” of sporting immortality. Icarus features its own American filmmaker, Bryan Fogel, who sets out to make an entirely different investigative film on doping before he chances upon a Russian state-sponsored Olympic doping program through the colourful man who heads it. Fogel lets his film follow the story, trashing the documentary rulebook by directly involving himself in the events that follow, protecting his subject to uncover the biggest scandal in the history of sport. The result is a thrilling, tense and superb storytelling expose: one that confirms all those cold, unfortunate Russian stereotypes we’ve seen in Western spy dramas. Need more of a push? Icarus went on to win the documentary-feature Oscar.

Chippa 

This 90 minute film follows the adventures of a street urchin, Chippa, who decides to leave his roadside home to go on an adventure across Calcutta on the eve of his 10th birthday. The night isn’t scary but filled with kind strangers and a bright, distracted imagination. Add to this Sunny Pawar, whose charm has only multiplied since Lion, and his companion through the little and big adventures, a dog called Pippa, and you get a film for children that teaches the adults a lesson on lost innocence.

Indian Matchmaking 

Rarely does a reality show get this widely reviewed but Indian Matchmaking on Netflix was hard to ignore. It spawned think pieces in international publications as well as memes on social media. So if you’re curious about what the fuss was all about, this is your chance! You’ll laugh, cringe and binge.

Love Death + Robots

If you’re looking for something dark and sexy that you can finish off in one sitting, the Netflix animation series might be the perfect snackable watch. With 18 episodes, each running shorter than 20 minutes, this horror/fantasy/sci-fi anthology features eye-popping animation style and luridly pulpy stories. An animation series strictly for adults. 

The Half Of It 

Besides being one of the best films of 2020, Alice Wu’s film took a step away from the typical glossy high school movie and gave us characters who felt real and familiar. You’ve seen movie love triangles before but never one quite like this. For a film about love in this day and age that has something new to say is nothing short of a triumph. The Half Of It is a sad, lonely and hopeful movie that also offers a much-needed education on the use of emojis.

Angamaly Diaries 

A food film, a gangster flick and a coming-of-age tale in small-town Kerala all rolled into one, Lijo Jose Pellissery’s swaggering breakout film is your perfect entry-point into New Malayalam Cinema. And to the brilliance of Pellissery, whose Jallikattu has been selected as India’s Academy award entry this year.

 After Life

After Life has 2 seasons with 6 episodes each and no episode is over 30 minutes. This means if you clear out your schedule and plan your meals and loo breaks efficiently, you can finish this in a day. I suggest you use your free subscription to watch it because it’s an original — I can’t think of another show on any other platform that can offer what this show does. The British comic Ricky Gervais has created, written, directed and stars in this. In what is his most affecting work till date, he plays Tony, a suicidal man who is unable to cope with the loss of his wife. You may wonder if this is the show you want to watch in this dreadful year, but it really is. Gervais takes you to the depths of darkness as Tony struggles to find the meaning of life, but I promise you, at the end of two seasons you’ll come out feeling a sense of gratitude and hope.

Unknown Origins

Unknown Origins is what you’d get if David Fincher’s Seven was produced by Marvel Studios. The Spanish-language film follows an investigator (Javier Rey) looking into a series of murders based on superhero origin stories. It’s part buddy-cop comedy, part hardboiled investigative procedural and part superhero movie — the detective’s own origin story is a thrilling reveal. This mishmash of genres does get messy, but a streak of originality cuts through the material and keeps it engaging.

Soni

Ivan Ayr’s quietly moving film, which follows around two Delhi policewomen as they go about their work, reveals a lot about what it means to be a woman today through a series of astute observations. It hits hard without the message being overtly preachy and is backed by solid performances from Geetika Vidya Ohylan and Saloni Batra.

Shirkers 

A documentary about a love for American indie cinema? A throwback to growing up in Singapore in the 90s as punk rebel teenage girls? A True Crime story with a mysterious conman at the centre? Critic Sandi Tan’s fascinating debut film is as much about films as it is about filmmaking itself, that employs lost home movie footage to tell a story that’s at once traumatic and nostalgia-soaked. 

The Studio Ghibli catalogue 

One of the highlights on Netflix India this year has been the streaming platform acquiring the Studio Ghibli catalogue, which isn’t legally streaming anywhere else. Devour all of them. If you’ve seen the usual suspects, like Spirited Away, and My Neighbour Totoro, try Princess Mononoke, or Kiki’s Delivery Service. Getting lost in the wonderful world of Japanese animation legend Hayao Miyazaki is just about the best way to spend the weekend. 

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