Admit it, your “To Watch” list has grown stale.
We’re all guilty of it from time to time. That damn queue just gets overstuffed to a point it feels impossible to settle on something high-quality. An embarrassment of riches so stifling we just fire up Grey’s Anatomy again for the seventh time. Because, well, it’s easier that way.
But you know what? We don’t have to live like this.
Whether you need a mid-level rom-com musical in your life, or a surprising Tim Burton title, or an under appreciated deep feeling drama, 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.
Begin Again (2013)
Is it possible Keira Knightley’s decade-best performance wasn’t a period piece? That’s not meant to be dismissive of her incredible acting chops nor the niche of which she is synonymous. I merely ask because the case could be made for Begin Again as her most versatile and feeling portrayal, but it seems not enough folks have seen it to actually weigh-in. So, if you’re in the market for a low-key, well-written rom-com anchored by two industry icons Begin Again may be the best one you haven’t seen yet.
Mark Ruffalo weathers through the struggling middle of the music industry in engaging, charismatically unkempt fashion as Knightley serves as a brilliantly multi-talented artist that visits the deep well of emotion without overshooting. And the shared earbuds/playlist evening stroll is quite possibly the most romantically fun scene of the era. This one hits all the right notes and deserves placement alongside the genre’s heavy-hitters.
PLATFORM: IMDbTV or Prime Video
FOR FANS OF: 50/50; Juliet Naked; Once
Big Fish (2003)
Remember when Tim Burton made good movies?
Believe it or not, there was a time when the eccentrically gothic auteur was can’t miss. His run from 1988 – 1996 is so bonkers it’s kind of hard to believe:
- Edward Scissorhands
- Batman Returns
- Ed Wood
- Mars Attacks!
Most directors only dream of a six flick run of that magnitude. Needless to say, Mr. Burton became a household name and for good reason.
And that’s where we arrive at Big Fish; his last bastion of artistic integrity, heart, visionary narrative, and enveloping experience. As a commentary on the complications of family it serves as a tender balm. As an end-of-life examination it’s a daring endeavor. As a treasure trove of storytelling it flourishes. As a cinematic display of color and sweeping, yet, nuanced spectacle it is simply stunning. Big Fish reminds us of why we go to the movies in the first place. All the magic, the love, the earnest characters, the poignant moments, and the random findings along the way.
Yes, Big Fish is a fine wine film that somehow manages to thrive on the surface while taking a few earned deep dives along the way. It’s one that makes you feel good about all the complicated stuff.
*heavy sigh* Now if only we could get that version of Burton back.
FOR FANS OF: Edward Scissorhands; Hook; Moulin Rouge
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
When was the last time you watched this classic?
The hookie of it all; the endless one-upping of Principal Rooney [who totally deserved everything he got BTW]; the Cameron reddit conspiracy theories; the parade sequence; the Abe Froman hoax; the Martin Sheen cameo; all of it is just so damn fun. And timeless.
So, yeah, we deserve to enjoy some leisure every now and again. Because, you know, life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. And as far as I’m concerned, firing up this Hughes & Broderick all-timer counts as appreciating the finer things in life.
God bless Netflix for keeping this one readily available.
FOR FANS OF: Back to the Future; The Breakfast Club; & Home Alone
A Monster Calls (2016)
Maybe the most low-key inspirational and visually sweeping movie of the decade. J.A. Bayona’s best work to date treats its source material with incredible candor and detailed intentionality while casting a scope of grandeur that transports us in the best way that only cinema can. Simply calling it fantasy seems a primitive moniker as the narrative is as much about coping with the tragic, unfair nature of life. But it doesn’t necessarily belong in the “rooted-in-realism” camp either–at least, not in the way stripped-down character studies.
More akin to Pan’s Labyrinth than say Hugo, but still expensive in vision-casting, A Monster Calls feels every bit as massively wondrous as it does lived-in. Simply artistic. The complexity of human emotion and wrestling with staggering loss is a hell of a thing. A Monster Calls captures these sentiments in delicate fashion while curating an other-worldly experience of imagination and advocacy. One that deserves better recognition as it serves a surprisingly cross-generational appeal.
FOR FANS OF: A Ghost Story; Pan’s Labyrinth; Wonder
War Dogs (2016)
Are we ready to have the Jonah Hill conversation? The man is more than bonafide movie star; he’s a rare generational talent.
Whether in front of the camera or behind, he always understands the assignment. Think about it, how many other names would you add to the list of talents that could conceivably pull off Superbad, Moneyball, and Maniac? The list is not long. Let alone working with the likes of Judd Apatow, Martin Scorsese, Bennett Miller, Gus Van Sant, Mark & Jay Duplass, Cary Fukunaga, and Joel & Ethan Coen all by the time he was 34. How is that even real?!
All that to say this: I’m not sure War Dogs, in concept, should’ve worked.
Despite it’s basis on actual happenings, the concept of a college humor / frat boy type flick commenting on the hypocrisy surrounding American war mongering and a love of Scarface with that kid from Whiplash doesn’t exactly sound cohesive.
But when Hill and Todd Phillips enter the picture somehow all the pieces beautifully fit together. And what we have to show for it is an incredibly re-watchable comedic action thriller that doesn’t really have a weak moment. Not a single frame was wasted in this frenetic but kinda suave soiree into the arena of dangerous war profiteering and long lost friends. After all, in “Dick Cheney’s” America anything is possible, right?
Look, I’ve made it known that I’m not exactly a Todd Phillips “stan”, but when the man brings the goods he delivers in rare, plentiful fashion. From a standpoint of pure adrenaline entertainment and low-key kind of good character work, War Dogs is the gift that keeps on giving. Now that we’re five years removed from its lukewarm release, it’s high-time for this disturbingly-fun-in-all-the-right-ways buddy movie to have its heyday in the sun.
Fire up War Dogs this month. It’s one helluva ride.
FOR FANS OF: The Big Short; The Hangover; Lord of War
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 Ferris Bueller 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!