The holiday season has arrived and, if you’re like me, it’s likely you’re facing the same question week after week: “What movie should I watch next?” There’s always something else, but in the sea of streaming libraries finding the next right one can be daunting. Allow me to help.
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 wildly entertaining and eclectic flicks that will upgrade your “To-Watch” list for the next month.
Todd Haynes doesn’t make films very often, but when he does, you can rest assured they’ll be tender, difficult, beautiful, and feel distinct. Signs of a true visionary.
If nothing else, it’s worth exploring this title to watch the master class of acting the two leading ladies provide. Arguably, there are no two actresses more versatile currently in the game of American movie making than Cate Blanchett & Rooney Mara. True to their reputation — they deliver to an astounding degree. Paired with Hayne’s gentle hand, the film feels almost like a distinct memory; a heart-felt yet fractured journey into an actual moment and tangible relationship. Almost as if the film itself were old photographs found in a box, once forgotten, and fondly rediscovered decades later. Perhaps that’s a testament to the power of passionate connection with another. Certainly no one unlocks that box better than Blanchett.
Hayne’s framing created a subtle swelling that managed to erase my breath with the delivery of a simple lock of the eyes. The weight of a perfectly captured shot; of a single glance; of a brief touch of the hands; of yearning just under the surface; so much found in such simplicity. Blanchett & Mara stop the commotion of a full room with a single look. Carol won’t go where you think it will — in true Haynes fashion — but you’ll finish knowing in your soul that it would’ve played out exactly like this at that time. Not so much an exploration as it is a subtly emotional love story.
FOR FANS OF: Call Me By Your Name; Disobedience; Far From Heaven
Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
How do you capture the legacy of a legend?
Sir Sean Connery was the closest thing to a real-life mythological icon in the modern-day Hollywood era. From originating perhaps the most infamous, suave character ever set to color screen; to portraying the father of one Indiana Jones; to winning an Oscar for a shoot-em-up mob movie; to the glory that is Highlander; to friggin’ King Arthur; to giving us tender emotion thru the lens of Gus Van Sant; to an action-star career at retirement age; to somehow both nodding at and transcending the pop-cultural humor that followed his very name … the man was simply unmatched and just so damn cool.
When you think about the charisma of vintage movie stars, it’s difficult to find an apt comp. They all fall short in more categories than similarities. Sure, Burt Reynolds had the sex-appeal and action star status–but Reynolds never boasted true, Award-worthy talent, nor was he mic drop worthy. Of course Warren Beatty is a signature Hollywood leading man, but even he didn’t exude “cool” like Connery. Try as he may, Tom Cruise will simply never be quite as bold or as effective; talented yes, but always living in the shadow of the legend that came before him. Indeed, there was only one Sean Connery.
Our world is a touch darker now that he has left us. But the man accomplished more than most and left on his own terms. Both feats of which earn that our utmost admiration.
All that being said, it feels appropriate to celebrate his memory by re-visiting his famed turn as the debonair James Bond. Of course, each of them are fantastic in their own right. There’s simply no wrong choice. Thus, for this month, I recommend Diamonds Are Forever. Why? Because it’s my personal favorite. That will serve as the perfect reentry point as I relive what is still the greatest single era of Bond films.
PLATFORM: Hulu + Prime Video
FOR FANS OF: From Russia With Love; Goldeneye; You Only Live Twice
Sorry Fincher, but my man Francis Ford Coppola did the whole “A-list star does accelerated aging” movie before it was cool. The ultimate left-field, hipster flex from the man that gave us a Vietnam-focused Brando-cult, and perhaps THE definitive trilogy. But hey, it was the 90s and in that context Robin Williams playing an overgrown, rapidly aging kid makes perfect sense. And if that’s not 90s enough, get a load of the patent leather Airwalks the grampa-looking-but-still-an-18-year-old-high-school-senior Williams rocked at the graduation scene.
If nothing else, Jack proves to be a fun venture of surface-level warm fuzzies. That’s not a detriment as there are certainly times and places for movies of that ilk. Perhaps what makes this one fun is the star vehicle itself for Robin Williams. Say what you want about the overall picture, but Williams delivers a top-tier performance from his canon in capturing each little detail and large, sweeping emotion with fantastic, earned gusto. After all, isn’t that why we would want to revisit Jack in the first place? If not to appreciate the inherently 90s-ness of it all, because certainly this movie doesn’t get green-lit in any other era, but to enter into the energy of Maestro Williams for a spell and simply feel good at the end.
The imperfections a film like Jack carries are part of its charm. This one is a rare breed of easily digestible family flick and an albeit underrated masterclass in earnest, challenging acting. And a title like this is right in the wheel-house for a platform like Disney+. Take Jack for what it is and be grateful for the smile it brings. Movie nights needs those too.
FOR FANS OF: Big; Patch Adams; Stand By Me
The Kindergarten Teacher (2018)
Not sure why we as collective movie watchers consistently overlook Maggie Gyllenhaal as a powerhouse talent, but she certainly flies under the radar. Maybe it’s her unconventional script choices or maybe it’s due to an unfair market correction, I’m not sure. But I do know this:
Maggie Gyllenhaal is one of those rare leading ladies that packs a punch and instantly unlocks the earned emotion her characters demand — whether that be comedy, complicated, sensual, or dramatic.
So maybe, then, the challenge is up to us; maybe we simply need to better appreciate subtlety, nuance and un-showy range.
Nevertheless, Gyllenhaal’s unique acting arsenal is on full display in this dark, little Netflix film that grapples with the line between delusional and inspirational. As a tender-hearted kindergarten teacher and failed poet, Lisa (Gyllenhaal) discovers a young writing prodigy Jimmy. When inspiration strikes the lad, he rattles off profound lines that leave her breathless and find her risking all convention and safety to preserve the boy’s talent. A slow fade of earnestness descending into a point of no return.
As a film, overall, the narrative struggles with sluggishness — but the logline and performances are captivating enough to merit an engrossing watch. Capping off with an ending that stings like a punch in the gut, The Kindergarten Teacher represents a solid, mid-level movie ripe with un-judgmental observance. And, of course, anchored by Maggie Gyllenhaal in a performance deserving of more praise than it got.
FOR FANS OF: Detachment; Private Life; & Sherrybaby
The Lighthouse (2019)
We have lived with this film in our orbits for a year now and it still feels like a necessary recommendation as more folks deserve to know this unkempt treasure exists. Above anything else, it serves a few imperative reminders:
- Robert Pattinson is wildly talented.
- Willem Dafoe remains unmatched in capturing eccentric genius.
- Robert Eggers is season ticket worthy; meaning, if he makes a film it deserves our time, money, and attention.
As for innovative filmmaking in the 21st Century, it is quite possible the code has been cracked and the secret is regression. A clear pathway to innovation paved through refreshingly visceral experiences that are not found in CGI technology or IP-driven sagas. At least with The Lighthouse we feast on a visually hypnotic display that feels more inherently familiar than most anything this year has served. Yet, it carries a unique enough immersion that perhaps we cannot help but savor the artistic achievement that feels like a reinvented take on high-society dining. Eggers and his old soul appreciation of the twisted folklore of yesteryear certainly seems to have found a way to both make the stories that speak to him while potentially reinvigorating the medium and industry themselves. And he is doing so by regressing back to tools of the trade that have been around for decades.
The Lighthouse remains darkly silly as it grabs you by the throat, slowly tightening its grip but in a way that brings a seductive smile to your face as you gasp for breath. Unsettling but absolutely wonderful in every way.
Catch my full review here.
PLATFORM: Prime Video
FOR FANS OF: The Shining; Vertigo; & The VVitch
Hopefully this will breathe new life into your movie selections, or—if nothing else—add a few more solid titles to that overstuffed queue. Either way, you don’t have to settle for something mediocre when the James Bond extended universe 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!