Another month has arrived and most of us are likely still stuck at home for self-quarantine. But even in the thick of all the work-from-home shenanigans and adjusted summertime plans your movie nights don’t have to suffer.
Each month, I pick a short-list of under-the-radar titles waiting to be unearthed from the algorithms of Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and the like. Because movie nights are important and life’s too short to watch the wrong stuff.
Here are a few fun and gritty movies that will upgrade your “To-Watch” list this May.
Back to the Future (1985)
Honest question: Is Back to the Future the most re-watchable movie of all-time? I’m inclined to say yes.
It doesn’t get any better than Mary McFly and his life preserver risking life and limb to save his family and Doc Brown. I mean a Delorean time machine, Huey Lewis and the News, a clock tower lightning strike, Biff Tannen, and the largest speaker blow-out in cinematic history?! This movie has everything. But more importantly it’s an incredibly creative, original, and enthralling blockbuster that is still every bit as fresh and fun as it was in 1985. Currently slotted as the #38 on IMDb’s Top 250, you could easily make the case that it ought to be top ten. That’s a testament to the power of love.
As I’ve shared before, it’s hard to imagine the arena of American blockbusters without Robert Zemeckis. And with Back to the Future he didn’t just tap into the zeitgeist, he reinvented it entirely on the shoulders of a young icon and everyone’s favorite zany, old man mentor. There’s never a bad time to rewatch this movie. So treat yourself with a friendly visit back to 80s … and 50s Hill Valley. It’ll be fun.
FOR FANS OF: Big; Ferris Bueller’s Day Off; Spider-Man
Can’t Hardly Wait (1998)
In the flurry of 90s teen comedies, this is the gem that got lost in the shuffle. Not quite as Shakespearean as 10 Things I Hate About You, not as kitschy as She’s All That, and not raunchy like American Pie it tapped into simultaneous anxiety and euphoria of finishing high school in hysterical fashion. Equal parts time-capsule-comedy and emotional odyssey Can’t Hardly Wait is a low-key champion of ensemble storytelling.
The freshly graduated class of 1998 gather for one last raging party before kicking-off summer and college plans. A tapestry of incredible 90s-tastic archetypes weave in and out of connecting storylines that ultimately fixate on the overlooked dork finally garnering the attention from the girl … with iconic power-pop-punk soundtracking the whole thing, of course. From Jennifer Love-Hewitt and Ethan Embry, to that one kid from Hook, to strawberry Pop-Tarts, to the freeze-frame stat sheets, to the stripper angel saving the day, to a perfect use of Barry Manilow’s Mandy, Can’t Hardly Wait feels exactly of its era while thriving outside the conventional box that birthed it. For nostalgic purposes, for pure escapism, and for loud laughs this one is a perfect Friday night (re)watch.
FOR FANS OF: 10 Things I Hate About You; Jawbreaker; Bring It On
Uncut Gems (2019)
Back in January I wrote nearly 2,000 words praising this frenetic, modern masterpiece from the Safdie brothers. I even demanded the Academy give Adam Sandler an Oscar. You can read that review here. But if you’re looking for a CliffsNotes version, I tweeted this while writing it:
Fighting the urge to put my entire UNCUT GEMS review in all caps because it feels oddly appropriate and inappropriate all at the same time. What I'm trying to say is: I LOVE THIS MOVIE AND AM ADDICTED TO HOW UNSETTLED IS MAKES ME FEEL.
— Mitch⚡ (@MitchRoush) January 8, 2020
Basically what I’m getting at is Uncut Gems delivers a rare movie watching experience that gets in your gut, grabs hold, and takes you down a dark path of visceral adrenaline and nuanced world building. So, strap in to this turbulent ride. When it’s all done you’ll likely find a guilty smile on your face as you politely demand more.
PLATFORM: Netflix (available May 25th in U.S.)
FOR FANS OF: Good Time; Training Day; War Dogs
Up in the Air (2009)
In the venn diagram of savory 21st Century rom-coms and sharp anti-blockbuster comedies, Up in the Air owns the middle. Earning six Oscar noms, including Best Picture, this one broke through to redefine fun, prestige filmmaking. With a leading line-up of George Clooney, Anna Kendrick, and Vera Farmiga (and a perfect Zack Galifianiakis cameo!) you can’t help but relish in the delightful movie star-ness of it all. At its worst, this flick is a mere star vehicle. In the hands of Jason Reitman, it’s a humorously dark commentary on relationships, alienation, and missed opportunities. And firing people. There’s a lot of folks losing their jobs in this one; it’s heartbreaking but also kind of perfect.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway is the character arc that, in fact, doesn’t arc at all. Clooney’s take on Ryan Bingham, a career bachelor and travel-loving executive, is an earnestly comedic yet deeply human exploration of high-functioning self-sabotage. Just when you think he’s turned a corner that’ll finally get him to crack open that wall around his heart, it just doesn’t work out. Not in devastating fashion so much as a subtle understanding that sometimes you simply miss your window. That, and lots of people are liars. Either way, you’re better off keeping things non-committal–as they always were. Only someone with Reitman’s finesse and unique understanding of the fascinating minutiae daily life could deliver such an exploration through sharp dialogue and fine-tuned moments. Up in the Air may be one of those fine wine films; it gets slightly better with each viewing. But, you know, with casual sex, ugly break-ups, and, again, a lot of firing people.
After all, who can resist that Clooney charm?
FOR FANS OF: Crazy Stupid Love; Thank You for Smoking; When Harry Met Sally
You Were Never Really Here (2017)
So, I’m totally going to be “that guy” and say, the less you know about this film before diving-in, the better. You Were Never Really Here is an enveloping cinematic experience unlike most. Akin to slipping into a warm bath only to realize at the last minute that you’re drowning but in the best way possible.
Not many writers/directors understand less-is-more better than Lynne Ramsay. In the sense of understanding visual cues, audience intelligence, and gritty, silent emotion — she’s virtually unmatched. And as a Joaquin Phoenix season ticket holder, I do not say this lightly: Phoenix, in this, delivered one of his best performances to date. All in all, this is the film Joker tried to be.
You Were Never Really Here tackles PTSD, abusive familial relationships, sex trafficking, underground mercenaries, depression, and the unquenchable thirst for connection masterfully — and does it all in 89 minutes. Ultimately, it’s a story of empathy; a quietly unsettling character study that underneath all the gruesome acts rests a sobering dose of hope. Impeccable cinematography as well. You’re not prepared for this movie, nor will you ever be. But you will live in the silent thoughts of a damaged man for a spell and do so at the hands of a master storyteller. Dive-in when you’re ready for the heavy goods.
PLATFORM: Amazon Prime
FOR FANS OF: First Reformed; Nightcrawler; We Need to Talk About Kevin
Overstuffed queue? Don’t stress. Fire up the one of these titles and save your next movie night. If nothing else, you’ve no excuses on finding something to stream when Back to the Future is right there. Now, go watch something!
What’s the best flick you’ve caught on a streaming platform recently? Share in the comments and help me expand the list!