Feeling overrun with spooky cinema? I get it, October’s nice but horror flicks may not be your bag. That’s cool. Thanks to the never-ending library of online steaming your monthly movie watching doesn’t have to be scary.
Allow me to help.
Every month, I pack a short-list of under-the-radar titles waiting to be unearthed from the underbelly of Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and the like. Because movie nights are too important to be spent swimming in the lukewarm pool of convenient mediocrity.
Here are a few solid choices of the non-scary persuasion that’ll upgrade up your streaming list this October.
Hidden Figures (2016)
One of cinema’s best recent sources of inspiration, and a stunning overall ensemble. An important story alongside a perfectly timed release. Certainly 20th Century Fox had no idea going in that our country would be divided to this degree, but here we are.
Hidden Figures not only embodies all we hope to discover in a mainstream film — it illuminates unsung heroes and reminds us of what is right, and good, and true. Additionally, Taraji P. Henson straight-up brought it! [See video] She packed a brilliantly nuanced and authentic portrayal and carried the film. Hers is the most overlooked performance of 2016.
Hidden Figures is a healing dose of hope and a welcome title to any movie night. This one provides are rare opportunity to be inspired and entertained.
FOR FANS OF: Fences; The Imitation Game; Selma
The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019)
This film moved me; it challenged me; it left me breathless. Now, thanks to Prime, more folks can finally experience it. Here’s an excerpt from my piece on this underrated masterpiece:
“Where are you from?” In the world of TLBMISF — a world that even at its most fantastical is every bit real—attempting to answer that question is the heart of the conflict. A sentiment many of us take for granted far too often; an ownership of which Jimmie and ‘Mont never waver. But in the thick of white-fueled, high-class, hipster gentrification proudly owning your heritage is not enough. Indeed, as third-generation San Franciscans, though Jimmie and ‘Mont never left—the place they call home no longer exists. At least, not to the newly settled dwellers and deciders.
And that’s what makes this particular film so devastating; from the commanding, but heart-felt leading performances; to the stunning (and what’s sure to be award-winning) score; to the tender beauty of which the camera captures the aged, urban beauty of San Fran; to the humanity of struggling to share your voice; to the on-going struggle of needless police brutality; to the power of true friendship; to the sensitive truth of imperfect family; to the simple joys of a red notebook, skateboard and buffalo check coat—every fiber, every frame of Talbot’s intimate opus is captured with a level of honest love the likes of which mainstream American cinema dare not conjure … yet, we know from the beginning how it ends. With the lifers on the outside looking-in asking the unfair question:
What happened to my home?
PLATFORM: Prime Video
FOR FANS OF: The Farewell, The Florida Project, & Moonlight
The Man in the Iron Mask (1998)
Here’s the recipe:
Peak 90s Leo playing twins in a swashbuckling tale of 17th Century deceit, secrecy, and royalty.
Oh, and John Malkovich, Jeremy Irons, Gerard Depardieu, and Gabriel Byrne all play Musketeers.
I mean, what’s not to love?!
In terms of costume dramas, The Man in the Iron Mask is not exactly high-brow, but it delivers in full-blown, fun escapism. Equal parts adventure, cerebral caper, historical allegory, and pure star power this one managed to feel both uniquely 90s and timeless at the same time. These are the sorts of flicks that don’t hit cinemas anymore, instead they’re funneled as limited series on the prestige streaming platforms. So, as a salute to film going experiences of the not too distant past, Iron Mask is an enjoyable bit of nostalgia. And, amidst all the extra everything it captures, there are a few moments of genuine thrill that are earned to a fine degree.
But mostly, we watch to re-live the epic-ness of Leo’s massive 90s moment and the impeccable costuming and production design.
Fire this one up for a great evening of reminiscing and fantastic spectacle.
PLATFORM: YouTube Movies (Free)
FOR FANS OF: Elizabeth; Pirates of the Caribbean; & The Three Musketeers
Somehow a book about math became the best sports movie of the last 20 years and gifted us the single greatest Brad Pitt performance we’ve seen. Perhaps the biggest marvel of the whole achievement is the sheer volume of actual baseball action, more specifically the lack thereof. We spend two-plus hours in the throes of sausage making and niche baseball vernacular only to be swept up into the process that we almost forget that we’re just watching folks talk about baseball instead of playing it. And still, the movie is that good. What a time to be alive.
That’s what we’ve come to expect from director Bennet Miller (Capote and Foxcatcher). When it comes to detailed worth-building, establishing a deep-seeded lived-in quality, poignant but never pretentious framing, and fashioning masterful performances, with Miller we’re in great hands. His is a knack for welcoming you to a world of which you may not belong but are captivated by none the less. Welcoming and truthful but never rose-colored or driven by agenda. A true craftsman.
Of course, Sorkin’s influence with the script helps too. Yet helmed by anyone else, this flick easily becomes a festival of overdone moments and cliche one-liners. But here, we feel invested in Oakland’s innovative re-build; we’re thrilled with the winning streak; and we want so badly for them to go the distance even though we know they won’t. A film where nothing happens but everything happens at the same time and remains enthusiastically re-watchable.
So yeah, now’s a great time to dive back into the best sports movie that’s most certainly about baseball but doesn’t have much baseball at all. Trust me, it is really, really good.
Also, are we ready to have the Jonah Hill conversation yet? The dude has worked with some of the industry’s most notable directors, earned two Oscar noms but also gave us Superbad. Beyond a doubt one of the more versatile, young talents in the game.
FOR FANS OF: A League of Their Own; The Social Network; & Spy Game
The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019)
Look, I get it, we’ve all got baggage with Shia. It’s impossible to separate entirely no matter when you see him on screen. That’s part of the package. But if we were being objective we’d recognize that post Fury he’s put together a run of films that is not only impressive, but down right award worthy. He’s certainly braver than the bulk of his counterparts. I mean, did you see Honey Boy?!
All that to say this:
LaBeouf anchors a coming-of-age, backwoods road trip flick in the most grounded, earthy way yet is somehow completely removed from any sense of “showy” effort. That feat alone is worth giving The Peanut Butter Falcon your attention.
Perhaps what endears me most about this little picture with big heart is the pure-bred enjoyment it packs without ever crossing into the cheese-filled waters of Hallmark. There’s certainly a version of this movie that’s directed by Ron Howard, filled with a score of sweeping strings, and desperately tries to push tears out of our ducts but we gag from the artificial sweetness. But here, instead, what we have is an honest to God American movie laced with welcome authenticity.
In the last couple years, I can’t think of a more likable character than Zak. His dream of becoming a professional wrestler, although absurd to a degree, never feels trite. We’re all-in on him setting out on his quest. The payoff is wonderful too. But the real magic happens along the way as Zak and Shia’s Tyler take on the rare space of unlikely duo making it work in the best possible way. We grow with them and that makes the journey all worth it.
The Peanut Butter Falcon is a feel good movie that doesn’t suck. And if you know what I meant you know just how much of a treat that is.
FOR FANS OF: Good Will Hunting; I Am Sam; Stand By Me
Hopefully this will enhance your movie night, or—if nothing else—add a few more solid titles to that bloated queue. Either way, you don’t have to settle for something spooky every night this month … Now, go watch something!
What’s the best hidden gem you’ve streamed recently?
Share in the comments and help me expand the list!