As many of us have found ourselves with more time for in-home entertainment, some ambitious souls have taken advantage of these seemingly elastic days by packing in some epic viewing: lengthy, challenging movies, for example, or full-series binges of long-running television shows. But some of us are having a bit of trouble staying — what’s the word? — ah well, I’ll just scroll Twitter again while I try to think of it. Sorry, what were we talking about?
If you also find yourself suffering from a short attention span — or merely seeking simple, easily completed tasks to check off an arbitrary list for a sense of accomplishment — here are a dozen movies currently streaming on Netflix that are worth your time (specifically, a time of less than an hour and half).
‘Frances Ha’ (86 minutes)
If you’re looking for something sunny (and who could blame you?), look no further than this fizzy 2013 indie comedy from Noah Baumbach (who co-wrote and directed) and Greta Gerwig (who co-wrote and stars). Gerwig’s Frances is a charming, aimless, young New Yorker who floats from one makeshift home to another, attempting to puzzle out her career, romantic entanglements and future. Along the way, she takes an impromptu trip to France, tries to save her relationship with her best pal (Mickey Sumner) and frolics through Manhattan to the sounds of David Bowie. It’s a cool breeze of a movie, and not a second longer than it should be. (Read the New York Times review.)
‘The Incredible Jessica James’ (85 minutes)
Similarly summery vibes saturate this 2017 fleet-footed, character-driven rom-com from the writer and director Jim Strouse, who devised this vehicle specifically for its star, Jessica Williams (“The Daily Show” and “2 Dope Queens”). It’s easy to see why. She radiates charisma, sass and style as a Brooklyn playwright navigating a rough spot in her creative and romantic life, as she finds her usually high spirits tempered by rejection letters and a bad breakup. Her potential new paramour (Chris O’Dowd) is as much a mess as she is — so they just might be right for each other. Events unfold about as expected; the reason to watch is Williams, who plays the picture’s comedic, dramatic and romantic moments with exhilarating energy and unflagging ease. (Read the New York Times review.)
‘Obvious Child’ (84 minutes)
And if you’d like to spend more time with appealing New York protagonists, queue up this modest 2014 indie comedy from the writer and director Gillian Robespierre. Jenny Slate stars as Donna, a Brooklyn stand-up comedian in her late-20s who meets a charming, if square, rebound guy (Jake Lacy). She goes to bed with him and ends up dealing with the consequences of that one-night stand in a way that most comedies sidestep. It’s a tricky balancing act of honest comedy, relationship drama and character study, held aloft by Robespierre’s wise script, Slate’s nuanced characterization and a stellar supporting cast (including Richard Kind, Polly Draper, and Gaby Hoffmann). (Read the New York Times review.)
‘Tramps’ (83 minutes)
Stay in the New York groove with this giddily entertaining 2017 crime comedy/romance from the writer and director Adam Leon (“Gimme the Loot”). Callum Turner and Grace Van Patten charm as a pair of small-time crooks doing grunt work on a job that’s half-explained and barely understood, by them or the audience. When it goes awry, they have to chase a misplaced package out to the suburbs, where their improvised stakeout turns into a hangout (and, just maybe, a makeout). The movie is full of warm character beats and keenly observed moments, including the ultimate gesture of Gotham romance: “I wanna give you my MetroCard.”
‘Win It All’ (88 minutes)
There are probably smarter people to entrust with a big bag of money than a compulsive gambler like Eddie Garrett (Jake Johnson) — he might, for example, decide to “borrow” some cash to scratch his itch and end up several grand in the hole. The story of how Eddie blows that money and tries to win it back is a tricky one to tell, since characters like him don’t always make for sympathetic protagonists. But the laid-back charm that Johnson honed to perfection over seven seasons of “New Girl” pairs nicely with Joe Swanberg’s affable, shambling, dialogue-driven direction in this 2017 movie, resulting in a brisk and engaging character study.
‘Burning Cane’ (77 minutes)
The brief running time of Phillip Youmans’s debut feature is, in a way, an act of mercy; it is a story of such bleakness and melancholy, of so many lives in various states of distress and despair, that to dig in longer might be more than some viewers can bear. Yet “Burning Cane” is somehow not a depressing experience; its filmmaking is so exhilarating, its performances so electrifying, its sense of time and place so deeply felt that the picture crackles and vibrates like the old blues records that inspired Youmans, who wrote and directed the 2019 film. That Youmans was a teenager at the time renders his work all the more stunning; it has the kind of richness and wisdom some filmmakers spend a lifetime accumulating. (Read the New York Times review.)
‘Paris Is Burning’ (71 Minutes)
This Sundance-winning documentary from Jennie Livingston is an energetic portrait of New York’s drag-club scene of the late 1980s, known by its denizens as the ball circuit, and an introduction to some of the inimitable characters in it. Over the course of its short but rich run time, the 1991 film becomes a snapshot of a subculture steeped in history, hierarchies, rivalries and lingo (shade, mopping, vogueing and more). From today’s perspective, it’s also a work of anthropology, pinpointing elements of a scene that have since permeated mainstream pop culture, often without proper acknowledgment. But the film’s most heart-rending sections — dealing in issues of homophobia, gender bias and anti-transgender violence — sadly haven’t aged a day. (Read the New York Times review.)
‘Chasing Coral’ (89 minutes)
In this unsettling yet majestic 2017 documentary, marine scientists and underwater photographers unite to explain the disappearance of major coral reefs. As temperatures rise worldwide, much of the Earth’s coral has been destroyed at an alarmingly fast rate. “Chasing Coral” picks up from Jeff Orlowski’s previous environmental documentary, “Chasing Ice,” and uses similar time-lapse photography to capture the dying of the coral. He wisely puts a human face to the story: Zack Rago, a “coral nerd,” finds that even his considerable enthusiasm is no match for the bleakness of his research. (Read the New York Times review.)
‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’ (81 minutes)
“You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill,” Jiro Ono explains. “That is the key to happiness.” He has certainly mastered his skill; his 10-seat sushi-only Tokyo eatery is recognized the world over and is less a restaurant than a temple. But has that perfectionism made him (or the people around him) happy? David Gelb’s mouthwatering 2012 documentary poses that question and further explores his philosophies of life and work, while also crafting a healthy dose of stunning “food porn,” painstakingly capturing the careful preparation of Ono’s culinary gifts and lovingly lingering on the results. (Read the New York Times review.)
‘Slow West’ (84 minutes)
This gorgeous, gloriously eccentric debut feature from the Scottish musician-turned-filmmaker John Maclean brings a welcome international flavor to the Western, a film genre that has traditionally been dominated by all-American icons like John Wayne and James Stewart, but often tells stories of a real-life frontier filled with immigrants and outsiders. In “Slow West” (2015), a young Scotsman (Kodi Smit-McPhee) seeks his lost love with the assistance of an Irish bounty hunter (Michael Fassbender) and with a mysterious stranger (Ben Mendelsohn) in hot pursuit. It’s a film of cockeyed humor and strange beauty — and enough wide-open landscapes to temporarily stay your cabin fever. (Read the New York Times review.)
‘I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House’ (89 minutes)
The director Oz Perkins — son of the “Psycho” star Anthony — uses unorthodox photography, creepy music and hushed performances to craft this genuinely unsettling 2016 haunted-house movie. It’s a modest movie, small even, often filled with just one person rattling around in an old house. But this slow-boiler of a movie is patient and deliberate, emphasizing unease and tension over the modern horror film’s typical gore and jump scares (though there are a handful of those, and they’re beauties). In fact, it’s not really a horror movie at all; it’s a ghost story, and quite a good one.
‘Cloverfield’ (85 minutes)
The concept of the “found footage” horror movie — a story told entirely in documentary-style video, shot by the participants and discovered after the events it captures — was still a fairly fresh one in 2008, when the director Matt Reeves fused it with a “Godzilla”-style monster movie to create this inspired “document” of a terrifying alien attack on New York City. But it’s not all carnage and shaky-cam; the clever script begins as a home movie shot at a farewell party, establishing a core group of friends and ex-lovers who must rely on one another as the city plunges into chaos, thus creating the kinds of realistic relationships and emotional stakes not often present in monster flicks. (Read the New York Times review.)