March is going to be a good month for new streaming titles — you're just going to have to wait a little bit to get to the best stuff. That's particularly true for Netflix, which is adding a bunch of great titles, but only in the second half of the month. (The first half of the final season of Mad Men only gets added to the service on March 22, only two weeks before the final batch of episodes begins to unspool on AMC.)
Yet there are plenty of good titles coming, and even a few available right now. Here's a quick look at five movies and TV shows worth watching on various streaming services this March.
The Overnighters (Netflix)
This amazing documentary was added in the second half of February. If you haven't seen it, you need to watch it immediately. It made my top 10 films of 2014 list, and with good reason.
Jesse Moss's film begins in a simple place — there's a massive influx of men coming to North Dakota to work in the booming oil industry there, when there simply aren't enough jobs to accommodate them all. So Lutheran pastor Jay Reinke decides to open up his church to these men, to give them a place to sleep. It's not really a conscious decision for him. It's simply an extension of what he sees as his Christian charity.
Of course, charity is all well and good, but in Reinke's case, it bumps up against the fact that he is also part of a local community that doesn't terribly want these men — many of whom have criminal records — hanging around its fringes constantly. By giving them a place to sleep, Reinke thinks he's helping them stay off the streets. Yet in the eyes of the town, he's giving them a place that keeps them in the city.
It's an impossible situation, and Moss patiently watches as things build to a breaking point, then finally shatter. It's an incredible film, riveting and heartbreaking.
Drunk History, season two (Amazon)
One of the best reasons to subscribe to Amazon Prime is to have access to many of the best shows Comedy Central has to offer. Drunk History isn't at the pinnacle of the channel's offerings, but when you need something that will just make you laugh really hard, there are few better offerings.
The premise is simple. Comedians and other generally funny people get drunk. Then, they try to recall some major event from history, with actors re-enacting what they talk about. The actors lip-sync in time with the drunken retelling, and what ensues is somewhere between History Channel documentary and historical society re-enactment.
All the while, the editing and other technical elements add to the fun, creating a sense of rolling goofiness, that sweeps everything along in its wake.
Did you know there was a movie featuring a love triangle among Carole Lombard, Jack Benny, and Robert Stack? Well, there is, and this is it. It's also a deeply funny movie and a surprisingly adept World War II thriller, set in Nazi-occupied Poland and filmed during the depths of the war.
In truth, To Be or Not to Be was greeted with a somewhat muted reception when it arrived in theaters in early 1942. The film made dark satire out of Hitler and the horrors that were engulfing Europe at the time, and many felt it was a bridge too far to actually mock the man America was at war with.
However, To Be or Not to Be has endured as a comedy classic, for one simple reason — it's endlessly funny, but it also cares deeply about its characters, who find themselves struggling to survive and express themselves in a world gone to hell. It's one of the finest films from director Ernst Lubitsch, who is one of the finest comedy directors of all time.
Listen Up Philip (Amazon)
Director Alex Ross Perry has crafted an acid-black comedy with this 2014 release, which follows a writer struggling with his creative process, with the passage of time, and with his relationships. Jason Schwartzman stars as the "Philip" of the title, with Elisabeth Moss as his girlfriend, Ashley, and Jonathan Pryce as his literary idol, Ike.
Perry's movie won't be for everyone — for starters, Philip can be a singularly unpleasant presence — but the movie's literary qualities and the way it plays around with the passage of time make it more than worth checking out. And for those who can brave Philip's worst moments, the movie offers impressive depth and nuance. This is a film that really understands the struggles both of artists and of those who find themselves unlucky enough to be in love with artists.
Amazon Prime subscribers can watch it for free beginning Friday, March 6, but it's also available for rental and purchase here.
Life Itself (Netflix)
The life of film critic Roger Ebert is the subject of this wonderful biographical documentary that celebrates not just film and criticism but, well, life itself.
Documentarian Steve James (Hoop Dreams) was lucky enough to interview Ebert several times in the months before the writer died, and those interviews form the spine of this film, which is loosely based on Ebert's memoir but also encompasses the entirety of his career. Along the way, James touches on Ebert's work with fellow critic Gene Siskel, his rise to fame, and his ultimate status as a beloved cultural icon.
This list is filled with projects that look at the darker side of life (and, okay, Drunk History), no matter how sardonically. But Life Itself will remind you of the wonders of life, something that's arguably even harder to do well. Not bad for a movie about a critic.
Life Itself will be available on Netflix Instant beginning Thursday, March 19.