If we were being honest we’d admit our “To Watch” list could probably use a little sprucing up. Whether you need to remember what an original thriller feels like, or a forgotten Kathryn Hahn title, or the next best Pixar flick, there’s always room for more. If nothing else they may help take your Friday movie nights to the next level.
Each month, I compile a short-list of worthwhile movies waiting to be unearthed from the algorithms of Netflix, Hulu, Disney+ and the like. Because life’s too short to watch the wrong stuff.
Here are a few entertaining films of that will upgrade your “To-Watch” list for the month.
Black Swan (2010)
Long live original thrillers!
Not sure how it’s been 11 years already but I think it’s safe to say this is Aronofsky at his best. Unflinching but still tight. Imaginative but still an earnest character study. Bold in log line but still grounded in earning every single key moment. And truly, an incredible display of restraint. (I mean, let’s be honest, in another’s hands this movie becomes The Fly gone horribly wrong, right?)
Lest we forget the low-key fantastic cast:
- Natalie Portman (can we give her a second Oscar for this just because she was that good?)
- Vincent Cassel
- Mila Kunis
- Barbara Hershey
- Winona Ryder
- Mark Margolis
- Sebastian Stan
That is what we like to call the A-Team.
But above all, perhaps the biggest achievement, beyond the cinematography, the concept, and Portman’s transcendent performance, rests an uncanny re-watchability. Black Swan is an unsettling immersive experience that, in some circles, likely hasn’t been matched in mainstream American cinema beyond Ari Aster’s Midsommar. Yet, unlike the aforementioned break up movie from hell, Aronofsky and Portman’s magnum opus lends itself to a weird sense of cathartic (or masochistic?), disturbing entertainment. Maybe it’s because grounded beneath the whole ordeal is a deep appreciation for fine art and the daunting task it is to bring something of such magnitude to life.
Either way, Nina’s slow fade into method acting madness-jealous-fearful-rage is one of which I can’t get enough. So we strap in for yet another watch and we marvel at everything unkempt and passionate and darkly human that Black Swan has become. And we love it.
FOR FANS OF: Her; Midsommar; Mother!
Afternoon Delight (2013)
Kathryn Hahn is a leading lady and I don’t care what mainstream Hollywood says.
For 24 years she has been a fixture in some of the best studio comedies both movies and television have to offer. But more than a “classic best friend” typecast, she levels up every character, every scene she touches. Hahn brings the high heat every time out.
Moreover, our remarkably talented queen has the chops to be a true, blue leading lady. Kathryn Hahn stretches convention as authentically as any of her counterparts. Somehow approachable yet elegant; unrefined but grounded; a little out there but never alienating; raw energy with nuanced acting choices — she simply shines. An icon that gives us an indelible real turn in Private Life to match the wild, scene-stealing hysterics of Step Brothers.
That is ultimately what led me to Afternoon Delight; which, at first, seemed to be a RomCom granting her space to own the narrative. That quickly turned into a sneaky fantastic dramedy treatment of modern marriage and all the disappointments that come with it. Needless to say, Afternoon Delight is the embodiment of a quirky, flawed, self serious, but deeply good indie flick. And with Hahn anchoring the ship as the recently fascinated with sex workers while drowning in a sea of ambivalence towards her own family, you know you’re in for a unique ride.
This one sticks the landing because it somehow checks all the expected boxes while packing earned left turns along the way. Unvarnished, unapologetic, but still super funny — Afternoon Delight is an under the radar vehicle for both Kathryn Hahn’s brilliance and Joey Soloway’s sharp pen.
PLATFORM: Prime Video
FOR FANS OF: Crazy Stupid Love; Private Life; Young Adult
Pixar just has a way, don’t they?
Two decades after the fact and we’re deeply invested enough that it’s no longer a question of, “Do you dig Pixar?” but rather, “What’s your Pixar Top 5?”. Because at this point it’s damn near a universal question. We all have a list.
It’s simple, Pixar hits right in the feels in the most tender, vibrant ways. The studio’s animated films remind us that we are humans capable of feeling deeply and having silly, imaginative fun at the same time.
That’s where Luca comes in for me. Because, as I said, Pixar just has a way.
Luca is the film I wish I had as a kid.
My 5yo and I have watched it three times and it serves like a refreshing splash of water on a sweltering day. It speaks simple, rich empathy in every frame. Furthermore, the story helps us feel seen.
My kid doesn’t just feel entertained by the ventures of Luca, Alberto, & Giulia, she feels empowered. That means something.
As deep feelers, we’ve found a welcome balm here.
Plus the movie is fun and thoughtful and stunning and on the short list of the more finely scored Pixar titles.
For my money, Luca is top tier and simply delightful.
FOR FANS OF: The Illusionist; Moana; Up
Boogie Nights (1997)
Only Paul Thomas Anderson could make a family movie about the porn industry and actually pull it off.
Okay, so it’s not a family film in the strictest sense, but anyone that’s spent time swimming in the pool party of this film will attest the ironic masterstroke of Boogie Nights is the familial core of which it finds its footing. Yes, it’s about adult films, and cocaine, and ineptitude, and ridiculous, childish ambition, and deeply, deeply flawed people, and infidelity, and shame, and “lost causes”, and excess, and all the “ands” … but it’s also, cliche as it sounds, rooted in finding purpose and finding your people.
Somehow Boogie Nights both defies and leans into cliches, but that’s why we love it. Well, that and the incredible amount of talent packed into a single cast. I mean, is there a better display of ensemble mastery than this?
Here, 24 years later, I still can’t decide if this is Mr. Anderson’s most or least approachable film. But I do know this, for a time capsule, this one feels timeless in scope, craft, cast, and script. In the arena of unkempt prestige movie-making, Boogie Nights is an American classic.
FOR FANS OF: Almost Famous; The Big Lebowski; Magnolia
In an alternate universe, Lars von Trier’s masterpiece was heralded as such.
Every #FilmTwitter Stan would have seen it, casual movie-goers could’ve given it a chance, and it cleaned up on the awards circuit culminating in Queen Kirsten Dunst’s deserved Oscar win. In hindsight, it seems plausible but it didn’t happen.
Melancholia is as much a humanistic character study drenched in authentic nuance while operating as a metaphysical opus. No better understanding of the crippling effects of depression has been captured on screen this decade, nor has it been illuminated with as much tenderness as LvT treats Dunst’s leading performance.
As an end of the world tale, Melancholia both understands the weighty helplessness of it all without ever crossing over into Sci-Fi territory. Almost as if the ending of it all is secondary to the unquenchable hunger for connection deposited in our fractured human spirits. Simply put, Melancholia is a fine wine film that delivers devastating beauty through the vehicle of inevitable circumstances. And it’s every bit as good as any of the decade’s heavily favored Oscar darlings.
FOR FANS OF: The Killing of a Sacred Deer; Take Shelter; The Virgin Suicides
Hopefully this will breathe new life into your movie selections, or—if nothing else—add a few more solid titles to that endless queue. Either way, you don’t have to settle for something mediocre when Black Swan is right there. Now, go watch something!
What’s the best hidden gem you’ve streamed recently? Share in the comments and help me expand the list!