If we were being honest we’d admit our “To Watch” list could probably use a little sprucing up. Whether that means remembering what an understated Aronofsky title feels like, or a forgotten spooky animated installment, or simply need 90s nostalgia back in your life, there’s always room for more. If nothing else they may help take your Friday movie nights to the next level.
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.
The Wrestler (2008)
Who knew Aronofsky [a.k.a. Hollywood’s most “extra” filmmaker] had it in him?
That’s the reverberating thought I get after swimming in this one. Well, that and marveling at Mickey Rourke’s masterful work (where is his Oscar?!). Either way, The Wrestler finds a way to devastate and overwhelm with such nuance and sensitivity you almost forget you’re watching a movie. A remarkable feat from an intentionally unremarkable film.
Randy “The Ram” has already lived his best days; but not his most interesting ones.
Sure fame, success, and the roar of the fans are electric but there’s no humanity there. That is where we find Aronofsky’s script daring to venture – at the intersection of regret and thinly veiled hope. Truth be told, you’ll be hard pressed to find a more unrefined character study that still manages to endear us with The Ram’s unquenchable will. The sincere – yet fractured – heart wins us over; we root for Randy to discover . . . something. That’s what makes it all so hefty.
The Wrestler isn’t exactly re-watchable; but it’s one that lingers. Perhaps even meriting a re-watch every few years or so in its own right. Because a damaged but deeply authentic character like this doesn’t come around like this very often and it’s stunning to see the last legs of a journey unfold in such a grainy, deeply felt fashion.
And with every “out there” title Aronofsky rolls out in its wake, it makes me appreciate The Wrestler even more.
FOR FANS OF: Crazy Heart; The Rider; Rocky
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)
Prime Costner vs Iconic Rickman.
Morgan Freeman action star.
Christian Slater and all of his vintage Slater-ness.
Plus this incredible shot.
The period piece.
And that “so bad it’s good” Bryan Adams song.
Does it get any more 90s than that? Moreover, does it get any better?
Let’s be honest, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves didn’t have to go this hard but it did anyway, for us. And god bless Kevin Reynolds for making it happen.
It’s time to fire this one back up and relive it’s incredible 90s glory.
PLATFORM: HBO Max
FOR FANS OF: Braveheart; First Knight; The Three Musketeers
The Matrix (1999)
21 years later and Neo is still the one.
Seriously, what can there be said about The Matrix that hasn’t already been unpacked at length? I mean that as a compliment, by the way.
What the Wachowski sisters captured was somehow more than landmark but there still doesn’t seem to be a strong enough word that alludes to all that this cinematic world captures. Can we even conceive what the pop cultural landscape looks like in the year of our Morpheus 2021 without The Matrix’s lasting impression? It almost feels impossible. Again, that’s a compliment not a slight.
I suppose what I’m trying to say is this:
The Matrix is perhaps the closest thing to a unicorn film modern American cinema has seen in quite some time.
Re-watching all these years later, and the Sci-Fi epic somehow feels both uniquely of a time and timeless all at the same time. The visuals, the set pieces, the choreography, the concept in and of itself, the casting choices, the style, the homage/reinvention of trope, all of it speaks to a rare, enveloping cinematic experience. And damn if it’s not still not an incredible adrenaline ride.
So, yes, The Matrix still holds up and is still utterly re-watchable for all the right reasons.
Plus, the fourth edition drops later this year and there’s simply no better way to buy into that hype than by re-living the one that started it all.
PLATFORM: HBO Max
FOR FANS OF: The Fifth Element; Inception; Terminator
Monster House (2006)
In the summer of 2006, I was 18 years old and in my fourth year working at the local small-town cinema. Throughout my tenure on that team I saw a lot (and I mean a lot) of free movies. (I mean, what good is working at the cinema if you’re not going to catch free flicks?)
Anyway, I remember watching Monster House one afternoon simply because I could; it was free, and a few of us staffers were looking to kill some time. In any other capacity I doubt this one would’ve reached my orbit. Perhaps that’s why I still maintain a juvenile attachment to this little movie that could. It harkens me back to the days of knowing virtually nothing before diving head-first into a movie and the rarer moments of genuine surprise when it delivered the goods.
Monster House is a breath of fresh air in both scary storytelling and family cinema. Laced with wonderfully funny moments, fantastic visuals, and a legitimately captivating story, it feels good to have fun with a spooky title for a change. The “family” sense of it is well-placed without sacrificing immersive moments. Not to mention Steve Buscemi voicing the crotchety old man; the true MVP of the movie.
The deeper Hollywood dives into gory sequels, familiar books, and serial killer types for fright viewing, the more titles like Monster House shine. Maybe not as a masterpiece, but certainly high-quality filmmaking capturing something we don’t often see — a film that entertains, frightens, and packs some fun along the way.
For a change of pace, and a true underrated gem of the animated arena, Monster House deserves recognition.
FOR FANS OF:Hocus Pocus; The Nightmare Before Christmas; Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island
Manchester by the Sea (2016)
This. Film. Broke. Me.
One of the most subtly emotional and heart-breaking films of recent memory. Manchester by the Sea is, in every sense of the word, a harrowing masterwork. Featured on Hollywood’s 2014 Blacklist — most liked unmade scripts of that year — the screenplay boasts some of the finest nuanced, crafting of the last ten years. Kenneth Lonergan’s script taps into the universality of grief as a gateway; it grabs and takes hold with that gentle yet unrelenting energy. And exploring throughout the 137 minute journey grants as much space for creative expression as it does visceral guilt — both of which are therapeutic in their own right. Ultimately, it’s not a comforting watch, but it’s an unforgettable one in the way of lasting impact.
Not to mention both Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams delivering master class performances.
Near operatic in musical and emotional approach; understated in its inevitable destruction; and swelling in its brittle battle against things unsaid — Manchester is a truly human experience.
PLATFORM: Prime Video
FOR FANS OF: Blue Valentine; Good Will Hunting; Marriage Story
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 Matrix 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!