Summer is here in full-force and so is the season of prime movie watching. Whether heading back to the cinemas (finally!) or looking to fire up the old streaming platform, there’s no shortage of stuff to see. But, if you’re not sure where to land for your next watch, let this list provide some fun, helpful guidance. 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, Amazon 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.
Blue Chips (1994)
In case you were wondering, Blue Chips is a Top 6 Basketball Movie of All-Time. Hoop Dreams; He Got Game; Love & Basketball; Hoosiers; White Men Can’t Jump; and this one. That’s the list.
Not only that, Blue Chips was helmed by none other than the 70’s icon himself, William Friedkin. Yes, that William Friedkin. The man is one of those next-level sort of Hollywood geniuses with an absolutely bonkers IMDb resume. Random as this mid-90s installment may seem, Blue Chips was great in the moment and has become perhaps the most surprising “fine wine movie” from the decade. It has gotten incredibly better with age.
I must confess, however, I think grumpy Nick Nolte is kind of the best, but it’s an acquired taste. And here, doing his best Bobby Knight impression, Nolte captures the stress, anger, and passion of D-1 prestige collegiate athletics to an archetypal but incredible degree. Blue Chips was one of the first of its kind; 100% pure adrenaline, incredible basketball sequences (that actually feel real!), and a commentary on the toxicity of cheating and NCAA corruption that’s so on-the-nose it’s borderline comical now to see how much time has passed and how much remains the same. Toss in some Shaq, Penny Hardaway, and a slew of coaching cameos, you’ve got yourself a bonafide sports movie. And this one delivers the goods far better than some of the popular counterparts.
If you missed Blue Chips the first time, I wouldn’t blame you. It has a moment for all of five minutes. But take the deep dive now if sports flicks or angry Nolte are your thing. You’ll dig.
FOR FANS OF: He Got Game; Hoosiers; White Men Can’t Jump
The Color Purple (1985)
Steven Spielberg’s career is as mythic as any you’ll find. A champion of the modern day blockbuster, we owe summer movie going to the popcorn craftsman behind the likes of Indiana Jones, Back to the Future, and Jaws. To be honest, that feat alone would be enough.
But it’s Spielberg the historian that sticks with me. As a storyteller and advocate for sensitivity, truth, and holding a mirror up to society, Steven Spielberg has made a career out of showing us both the greatness of which it can boast, but more importantly the atrocities of which we must take responsibility. And he does so with such tender understanding that we marvel as his artistry. He captures that which is difficult to watch to a prestige level.
The Color Purple, outside the likes of Schindler’s List, may very well be his most important film; both in terms of subject and landmark achievement. In 1985, this film arrived in the middle of his run of blockbusters and rightfully earned 11 Academy Award nominations; helping us discover the wondrous talents of Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey along the way. The Color Purple is a story of Black identity; it’s a story of survival and identity; it’s a story of abuse; it’s a story of fractured family; it’s a deeply uncomfortable American narrative and that’s what makes it vital.
In true Spielberg form it checks all the boxes: Fantastic cinematography; bold performances; unflinching truth; and rare but sweeping vantages. But unlike much of his other work, this one is as steeped in deep despair as it is titanic performances. Though it may not be re-watchable, it’s certainly one that merits watching.
When we speak of the landmark titles from the Spielberg dossier, we owe it to his work and to this incredibly moving story to place The Color Purple in that conversation.
PLATFORM: HBO Max
FOR FANS OF: 12 Years A Slave; Amistad; If Beale Street Could Talk
The Iron Giant (1999)
Real Talk: This might be the peak of modern animation.
Maybe not so much in terms of style, but certainly when it rich emotion and narrative in a traditional animated feature. The Iron Giant is about as notable an achievement as one could hope for in 90’s pop culture. In the throes of Disney’s unparalleled modern run, Brad Bird was bold enough to make a movie outside of the Mouse’s influence and dared to take that opportunity to say something.
As a commentary on violence — and the genuine tenderness of opting for the opposite — this one is about as poignant as it gets. As a story of wonder and heart, it sets at the top-tier of nostalgic favorites. As a time tested tale of earnestness, The Iron Giant shows us that we can be better if we choose to be. And damn if that’s not the best part of American cinema, I’m not sure what is.
Despite shallow IP-hungry “nostalgia grabs” attempting to re-frame the iconic character for sleazy ridiculousness (yeah, I’m looking at you Ready Player One) Hulu bringing this fantastic animated experience back into our lives is just what we needed. A chance to remember what makes us good; a chance to relive something pure and entertaining; a chance to feel deep things in a way that makes us better; a chance to say, “this is wonderful.”
Here’s to the legacy of the The Iron Giant.
FOR FANS OF: 9; An American Tail; The Incredibles
Little Woods (2018)
Is there anything Tessa Thompson can’t do?
Whether stealing the show in the Thor-verse; playing a captivating romantic lead; earning our love in big summer event titles; or owning the screen in visceral indies; Thompson is, as far as this writer is concerned, a cut above the rest. It’s not so much versatility in the classic sense, but more of an uncanny magnetism colliding with raw, nuanced talent that grabs your attention from the first frame. Maybe it’s that killer line delivery; so sharp it almost hurts while granting you permission to laugh. Or maybe it’s that million dollar smile. Or maybe it’s simply the gravitational pull of an impeccably talented movie star.
All that to say this: Little Woods is a staggering film and I’m not sure it sticks the landing as strongly without Tessa Thompson’s pitch perfect blend of guttural emotion and effortless finesse.
Nia DaCosta’s 21st Century Western is equal parts crime flick and indie family drama in the best way. As an examination of those we tend to ignore, Little Woods delivers those subtle devastating blows you’d come to expect from films like American Honey and The Florida Project. But as a leading lady crime hustle, the film owns an eccentric gravitas that finds us rooting for Thompson and Lily James with real, earned buy-in. Not so much a “buddy caper” as it is a, “they need this” sort of way. A subversive exercise in advocacy if I ever saw one.
Little Woods enters as a conventional character study and sneaks up on you as an indie darling with a simple, bold message. And as soon as the closing shot hits you’ll find yourself saying, “Damn. That was deeply real, and it was deeply good.”
FOR FANS OF: American Honey; The Last Black Man in San Francisco; Sunshine Cleaning
Shutter Island (2010)
Shutter Island is the best Scorsese movie no one talks about and I’m not sure how this happened. I mean, the recipe is right there:
Leo + Ruffalo in a Dennis Lehane inspired script; a contained psychological thriller helmed by Marty himself. Oh, and just for good measure, we’ll feature the talents of Michelle Williams, Max von Sydow, Jackie Earl Haley, Patricia Clarkson, and Ben Kingsley just because we can. Toss in one of the more flooring endings of recent memory and what we have is a massively enthralling picture.
The fact that this title didn’t receive any awards love is one thing. The fact that a film this big and this good had its momentum disappear as soon as it arrived is equally baffling.
Call me a formulaic sucker, but an old school thriller whodunit playing with the concepts of accepted and projected reality with maybe the most iconic American movie star since Robert Redford in the hands of a modern cinematic maestro is going to get my attention every damn time. I can’t believe I’m saying this about a blockbuster Marty film but . . . Shutter Island deserved better, y’all.
It’s high time we give this movie its due.
FOR FANS OF: Memento; Psycho; Se7en
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 Shutter Island 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!