Let’s be honest, there’s never a bad time to spice up that “To Watch” List. Whether you’re in need of some rich 90s nostalgia, an off-kilter tragedy, or a studio comedy there’s no shortage of stuff to see. But, if you’re not sure where to land for your next watch, perhaps this list may prove helpful. At least for your next Friday movie night in.
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.
At Eternity’s Gate (2018)
Is there any genre that’s grown more oversaturated and more stale in the last ten years than the Bio Pic? Ripe with paint-by-numbers tropes and an unwillingness to breathe life into the familiar icons, it’s grown exhausting to watch more of the same roll out year after year. And to be honest, it’s a kind of a disservice to the icons, artisans, and historical figures they’re attempting to celebrate.
So that’s why when a modern biographical film comes along with earnest heart and unbridled creativity, it feels like a breath of fresh air.
Enter, At Eternity’s Gate.
An enveloping experience of artistic vignettes; deep, complicated emotion; fractured circumstance; and bold ambition. A window into the mind of Vincent Van Gogh at the most vulnerable and most artistic time of his life.
The film itself is as rich with feeling as it is breathtaking cinematography. As an exercise in exploring the intersection of mental illness and genius craft, Willem Dafoe devastates as the striving but not quite yet infamous painter. A career best performance that stands above the highest achievements of most of his counterparts.
At Eternity’s Gate is a bio pic except it’s not; an expression of art and turmoil; a capturing of a lone moment; a deep feeling tapestry; a sensitive portrayal of humanity. I melted into this film and struggled and was inspired.
This one feels like a beautifully eccentric gem that will only shine brighter as time allows.
FOR FANS OF: First Reformed; Inside Llewyn Davis; The Tree of Life
The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)
Yorgos Lanthimos is an acquired taste; I’ll concede that. But if for no other reason than his inherent commitment to originality, I’ve got to celebrate his work where I can.
Now, let me offer this disclaimer right out the gate:
If you haven’t seen a Y.L. film before it may be best to start with The Favourite. It’s certainly his most approachable and about as close to conventional as he’s going to give us.
All that being said, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a delectably unsettling feast of dark allegory and I cannot get enough it. Starring the likes of Colin Farrell (his best work to date?), Nicole Kidman (surprisingly watchable), and Barry Keoghan (the devious standout), Maestro Lanthimos has crafted a twisted tale steeped in the tradition of classic Greek Tragedy but reimagined thru the lens of modern nihilism packing one of the most uniquely striking watches you’re bound to find in recent memory.
Make no mistake, this one is not for the faint of heart. Nor is it simple escapism. But what we do have is a dark cautionary tale of “sins of the father” and the fantastical intersection of karma and curses. Deliciously deadpan, deeply serious, but still absurdly un-serious, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is completely on brand for Mr. Lanthimos in that it is unlike much of what hits 21st Century cinemas in the most disturbing and beautiful ways possible.
FOR FANS OF: The Favourite; The Lighthouse; Prisoners
Minding the Gap (2018)
One of the most breathtaking surprises of the last three years.
Bing Liu’s debut non-fiction feature is as moving and poignant as anything I’ve seen recently. A lifelong skateboarding fanatic, Liu — through his own experience with domestic abuse — started noticing a pattern among his growing crew of “outsiders”.
Minding the Gap is just as much about carving out your own community and embracing self-identity as it is about the hurt and pain a lot of teenagers carry. Talking about this doc proves difficult due to the ease of which the “emo” tag seemingly fits; but it couldn’t be further form the truth.
The swelling montages of open skateboarding over a gentle soundtrack and landscape are beautiful. Surprisingly emotional, Liu frames the comfort of this hobby-haven with delicacy and tenderness. Because, after all, this is their home; their family.
Minding the Gap reminds us of the schisms we’ve grown far too comfortable with in our day-to-day lives; it reminds us that acknowledging our flaws is messy work; it reminds us that even those “lost causes” have the capacity to feel deeply; it reminds us that American masculinity is a fragile and toxic thing; and that it’s basic human nature to fight for better than what we’ve been dealt.
A subtle reminder of what we often ignore, this one is the most purely emotional movie experience of the last ten years. Every bit deserving of its Criterion treatment.
FOR FANS OF: The Florida Project; Hoop Dreams; The Last Black Man in San Francisco
The Sandlot (1993)
Because it’s fun.
Because it’s America’s pastime.
Because, “You’re killing me, Smalls!”
Because it’s a perfect summer movie.
Bring The Sandlot back into your life. It’s a damn near perfect movie and if we’re being honest we’ll admit it was formative for most of us. Relive the fun; you’ve earned it.
FOR FANS OF: Little Big League; Little Rascals; The Mighty Ducks
Space Jam (1996)
Look, LeBron is cool. But never forget where it all started.
November 15th, 1996 I ventured to the local cinema with one of my best friends, and fellow basketball fanatic, and sat in the front row as the G.O.A.T. himself saved our beloved Bugs Bunny and the Looney Tunes with a single game of roundball. Sure, the premise was ridiculous even then . . . but everything changed after that.
The soundtrack, the bottle of “Michael’s Secret Stuff”, Bill Friggin’ Murray, the greatest half court dunk in cinema history, the iconic, zany toons, and so much more. Space Jam, for a then 9 year old, felt like a pop-culture revolution. And you know what? It was.
Everyone remembers Space Jam.
We’ve all seen it and we carry those memories with us; whether fond or silly. Now 25 years later, we’ve a sequel. An equally powerful, zeitgeist capturing display of cartoon IP colliding with live action athletics. Quibble all you want on whether or not the flick has merit, Space Jam exists for one reason and one reason only: To remind us that popcorn movies are still a thing. Well, that, and to make money, I guess.
Either way, there’s no better time to reignite the gloriously whacky nostalgia of the mid-90s. Everybody get up it’s time to slam now; we got the real jam goin’ now; welcome to the Space Jam.
MJ + Bugs + The Toon Squad 4 Eva.
PLATFORM: HBO Max
FOR FANS OF: Casper; Looney Tunes: Back in Action; Who Framed Roger Rabbit
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 The Sandlot 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!