Five great films to watch on Netflix over the bank holiday weekend

Stuck for something to watch? Here's a few classics and modern gems worth a look...

Five great films to watch on Netflix over the bank holiday weekend

Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin. Courtesy of Mongrel Media.

June already? The year may be flying by, but at least we have a long weekend to enjoy.

While we can only hope the sun will shine for the long weekend, many will likely find themselves in front of a television looking for something to watch at some point over the coming days. Never fear: here's a few Netflix picks, from 70s classics to modern gems.

A New Leaf

Elaine May’s 1971 comedy went through an infamously unpleasant editing process, with the writer/director reluctantly ending up having the film cut by someone else. Under those regrettable circumstances, that the end product is as good and endearing as it is a cinematic miracle.

A New Leaf is a dark screwball comedy that somehow manages to transform into a strangely affecting - if always tongue-in-cheek - romance by its final act. 

There are several fantastic gags, and the great Walter Matthau shines as the arrogant lead character who schemes to marry a wealthy heiress (played by May herself).

Everything has a weird, manic energy about it - and the fact that everything feels like it is barely holding together only adds to the film’s colourful identity.

Elaine May - now in her mid-80s, and acting as recently as Woody Allen’s TV series Crisis in Six Scenes last year - is one of the often unsung directors of late 20th century American cinema. There’s no better introduction to her work then this marvellous cult classic.

The Purple Rose of Cairo

Speaking of Woody Allen... Netflix hosts several of the prolific filmmaker's most beloved and iconic films, such as Annie Hall and Manhattan. The Purple Rose of Cairo doesn't always get listed alongside Allen's better-known work, but it should.

Set during the Great Depression, the film tells the story of avid cinema-goer Cecilia (Mia Farrow). One day, a character in one of the films leaves the frame and enters the real world. 

The 'fictional' Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels) - a charismatic archaeologist - is smitten with Cecilia, and they get swept up in a classic romance - until Gil, the real-life actor who plays Tom, shows up in town.

More than any other of his vast filmography, The Purple Rose of Cairo captures Allen's boundless enthusiasm for cinema itself. It is a celebration of the magic of the big screen, albeit a bittersweet one that acknowledges the gulf between fiction and reality.

Despite its sometimes dark undercurrents, this is also tremendous fun - full of fourth-wall breaking humour, giddy pacing, and lashings of good old-fashioned romance. This is the rare Woody Allen film that even non-fans should feel confident taking a gamble on - it is a real charmer.

Days of Heaven

American filmmaker Terrence Malick is one of the country's most unique filmmakers, and almost legendary for his unusual career trajectory. He made a genuine classic with 1973's Badlands; spent two decades without making a film; and in more recent years has become a divisive figure for his experimental, unconventional work such as The Tree of Life and Knight of Cups.

Before his extended hiatus ahead of 1998's The Thin Red Line, Malick produced one of his great masterpieces with 1978's Days of Heaven.

It in many ways marks a perfect compromise between Badlands and his later work. It has a clear, dramatic story - focusing on the experiences of a couple and a young girl on a Texas farm in the early 20th century - but also embraces the more poetic, freewheeling style that would evolve further in Malick's later work.

It sounds amazing (thanks to Ennio Morricone's stunning score), it is beautifully shot, and it is, frankly, one of the greatest American films ever made.

Under the Skin

Not everyone will like Under the Skin. A film this uncomfortable, this strange, this purposely hostile... it effectively dares the audience to dislike it. But if you give it your attention and your curiosity, you could well be rewarded.

Scarlett Johansson - who achieved an electrifying creative resurgence thanks to this film and Spike Jonze's Her - stars as an alien who arrives on Earth, disguised as a human in an effort to seduce and consume men. 

Not that any of that's immediately apparent - Jonathan Glazer's film thrives on ambiguity and what is not said. Instead, it is a visceral series of surreal nightmares that gradually transitions into a very peculiar journey of self-discovery.

This is a cold film, with stretches of improvisation alongside the scripted sections. But thanks to Johannson's convincingly alien performance, Glazer's confident direction, and some spectacularly disturbing effects and music, this is something of a modern masterpiece - well, as long as you don't absolutely hate the thing.

Black Book

Once upon a time - the 1980s and 90s - Dutch filmmaker Paul Verhoeven made his name with a series of thrillingly outrageous Hollywood efforts such as Robocop, Basic Instinct, and Starship Troopers

A few high-profile flops, however, saw him return to Europe - and he made a welcome artistic comeback with 2006’s Black Book, a wartime thriller set in Nazi-occupied The Netherlands.

Carice van Houten (best known these days for her role as Melisandre in Game of Thrones) stars as a Jewish woman who, after her family is killed by the Nazis, ends up as a spy for the Resistance in The Hague.

This is obviously quite sensitive subject matter at times, but Verhoeven expertly crafts a film that is unapologetically pulpy but never in bad taste. It’s a fast-paced thriller, packed with sex, violence and drama - but, perhaps most interestingly, it shows a side of World War 2 that is often neglected in cinema.

A rare film that is as thoughtful as it is exciting.