Don’t spend hours scrolling the menus at Netflix, Amazon Prime, and other movie services. I point you to the best new films and hidden gems to stream.
Movies included here may be available on services other than those mentioned, and in other regions, too. JustWatch and Reelgood are great for finding which films are on what streamers; you can customize each site so that it shows you only those services you have access to.
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both sides of the pond
It’s four extraordinary actors in a room. On one side of the table are Jason Isaacs and Martha Plimpton, as parents of a dead child. Facing them are Ann Dowd and Reed Birney, as parents of the child who did the killing. They’re talking. Just talking. And Mass — the extraordinary writing and directing debut of actor Fran Kranz — is riveting, and harrowing, and difficult to endure, and unforgettable. America’s shame is on wide open display here, for it was, of course, a school shooting that destroyed both these families. This is a deeply personal film, with grief and desperation and recriminations and blame bouncing between these profoundly hurting people. Mass takes no political stance whatsoever, yet ends up a shattering indictment of contemporary American culture anyway.
last chance on Netflix
Badass Times of London journalist Marie Colvin was killed in Syria in 2012, a targeted retaliation by President Bashar al-Assad for her reporting on the government siege and massacre of civilians in Homs. Her legend lives on in A Private War, a moving and important portrait of the foreign correspondent and her brilliant career. Rosamund Pike delivers the performance of her career, unpeeling for us Colvin’s many messy, contradictory layers with a sharp sensitivity. (It Boy Jamie Dornan costars as her photographer work partner.) This is a somber movie, often gripping, occasionally also angry-funny, and reminder — never not necessary — of the vital need for unfettered journalism to reveal the horrors governments would prefer to keep hidden. (Read my review.)
free for Prime members
Historical feminist horror? Maxine Peake is stupendous in the deliciously audacious Fanny Lye Deliver’d — aka The Delivered in the US — as a woman confronting the enforced piety and stifling patriarchy of her world. Set in Oliver Cromwell’s puritanical, despotic 17th-century England, this unsettling film plays with tropes of the home-invasion subgenre to create a challenging drama that is ambitious in emotional scope, and full of monsters who feel unexpectedly modern: men who wield religion as a tool of oppression. (Read my review.)
go absolutely ape on Disney+
Get your damned dirty ape hands (virtually) on a veritable film festival of Planet of the Apes movies, just added to Disney+. Begin with the 1968 classic that started it all, starring Charlton Heston as an astronaut stranded in a place where “apes evolved from men?!” and where, he later discovers, “they did it, they finally did it!” Then get your hands dirtier with the rest of the original series with Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970, D+), Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971, D+), Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972, D+), and Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973, D+).
Skip right over Tim Burton’s 2001 rebooted Planet of the Apes (D+), starring Mark Wahlberg — it’s very silly — and instead dive into the three-film series of the past decade. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011, D+) genetically engineers away the jokiness and hokeyness, leaving something pure and sweet and poignant behind in its very humanist tale of a scientist (James Franco) who accidentally creates smart apes with his drug meant to cure dementia in humans. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014, D+) continues the magnificent science fiction drama, as the remnants of humanity left after a “simian flu” apocalypse must learn to share the planet with smart apes. The series conclusion, with War for the Planet of the Apes (2017, D+), is a triumph of science fiction storytelling: a sweeping tale of mythological scope told with astonishing FX wizardry that brings emotion and intelligence to nonhuman people. This new Apes trilogy is unexpectedly beautiful, and wonderfully radical, particularly for big-screen SF these days, not only for its principled ideas but letting itself be ruled by those ideas.