Once a week, Procrastinate Better features a peek into the Netflix queue of a staffer or critic. No tampering with the results to make ourselves seem more or less erudite, we swear! Just the brief opportunity to explain (or defend, as the case may be) the choices. This installment comes from Slate copy editor Nathan Heller . More Candid Queues here.
1) Death and the Maiden . I realized that there were several Roman Polanski movies of the ’80s and ’90s I had never seen, so I’ve been trying to catch up. This 1994 psychodrama starring Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kingsley, and Stuart Wilson caught my attention immediately because of its title—a startling double-entendre with respect to Polanski’s own life. It may or may not be possible to separate Polanski the sex criminal from Polanski the artist, but Polanski, to his (artistic) credit, has been fairly fearless about bringing his lens into the uncomfortable space between the two. In this movie, about a woman who’s convinced a friendly neighbor was the man who raped and tortured her years earlier, the filmmaker seems to cut extremely close to the bone. Or is it just a feint? I want to see where this one goes.
2) Psycho . Hitchcock is one of my fixations, and I’ve seen Psycho three, maybe four, times. Since this is the movie’s 50 th anniversary, I’ve been meaning to watch it again, for “work”: There is some chance I may decide to try to write on it. My memory is that Psycho comes across as an odd specimen, a movie that blends some really careful, innovative filmmaking with an equal dose of heavy-handed genre stuff (a skeleton in a swivel chair—please!). It’s been a few years since my last viewing, and I’m eager to see what jumps out at me, so to speak, this time around.
3) Gorky Park . This is embarrassing! Not Gorky Park itself, which I’m told is a semi-respectable Cold War thriller starring William Hurt and Brian Dennehy, but, rather, the trail of previous viewing that made Netflix’s algorithm recommend it to me. When it comes to what I call “dateline movies”—those espionage films that name their settings in the lower corner of the screen (“Trieste, Italy”)—I have a giant appetite and virtually no taste. Another thing I love more than I should: good, stylish murder thrillers, most of all the courtroom ones, most of all from the ’80s ( Jagged Edge , Body Heat , Suspect ). Gorky Park , which apparently starts with a baffling triple homicide in the USSR and proceeds to a complex international conspiracy, sounds like a dream.
4) Laura . Otto Preminger’s 1944 classic is one of two movies I’ve seen more than 20 times (the other being Hitchcock’s Rear Window ). Laura manages to make the standard tropes of New York noir seem fresh and, thanks to a razor-sharp script, rather dazzling. It also contains some of the most vividly drawn characters of the period—most of all, Clifton Webb’s Waldo Lydecker, an arch, overpaid, cosmically self-centered columnist who dashes off his pieces in the amniotic comfort of his bathtub. (For what it’s worth, some time spent in the magazine world has not made this seem any less believable a character.) It occurred to me that I hadn’t watched Laura in a couple of years, which by my calendar is negligent. I find a new reason to love the movie every time I see it.
5) Cold Souls . I promise—honestly!—my queue is not always this sinister. In fact, I recall adding Cold Souls for a warm and fuzzy reason, which is that my little sister said I’d love it. The film, a debut feature from French-born writer-director Sophie Barthes, is described on IMDB as a “metaphysical comedy” starring Paul Giamatti “as himself.” Giamatti has his soul extracted to help with a performance of Uncle Vanya and then loses track of it. Or something? I’m trying to think of a movie with this kind of high-concept, self-referential conceit that I thought was totally successful, and I can’t. But my sister probably deserves the benefit of the doubt, at least for now.